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Pa. House Democrats demand police reforms, block voting session

Cynthia Fernandez of Spotlight PA
Pa. House Democrats blocked the start of a voting session to demand a special session to consider police reform bills in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and widespread peaceful protests.

HARRISBURG — State House Democrats on Monday took control of the chamber and refused to allow a voting session to begin, imploring Republican leadership to support a special session to consider 19 police reform bills in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and widespread protests.

“For 13 days, folks have been protesting in the streets, demanding that we actually do something. Now we are here demanding that you actually do something,” Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta, D-Philadelphia, said in an impassioned speech, echoing other black lawmakers calling on Speaker Mike Turzai, R -Allegheny, to take action.

The Democrats requested a special session specifically to address the reform bills, and Turzai said he was supportive of the effort. Leaders from both parties were set to meet later Monday afternoon to draft a letter in support of the session to Gov. Tom Wolf.

“We want to find an appropriate manner in which to offer up legislative solutions,” Turzai said. “You’ve taken it upon yourselves … to actually provide tangible solutions, and we need to take a serious look at those.”

But not all Republicans took kindly to the Democrats’ pleas for police reform.

“This is a direct violation of House rules,” Rep. Aaron Bernstine, R-Lawrence, said in a Facebook video. “They are standing in the way of allowing the speaker to go up and put us into session.”

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He added, “This guy is screaming like a madman,” panning the camera to Kenyatta, who was in the middle of a passionate speech recalling the injustices black Americans have faced.

The takeover of the chamber, in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, lasted a little more than an hour and came as a response to the thousands of people in all corners of Pennsylvania who have taken to the streets in peaceful protest of violent police actions.

“You should come up from your seats, come up here and demand that we don’t get to business as usual,” Kenyatta told his white colleagues. “That we don’t get the same speeches and lip service. We demand that we get meaningful police reform passed out of the Pennsylvania House.

"It’s the people’s House, and if we aren’t doing the people’s business, then we aren’t doing business,” he said.

He added: “We can’t go back to normal. The folks in our districts cannot allow us to come back home and say that we introduced a bill. They need movement. They need movement.”

Lawmakers knelt for 8 minutes and 46 seconds — the amount of time a police officer held his knee against George Floyd’s neck, leading to his death May 25 in Minneapolis.

A spokesperson for the House minority whip said Democrats started speaking prior to the House Speaker arriving on the floor.

“As of now, there’s no motion or any procedural maneuver. They’re simply at the rostrum and refusing to leave. Session hasn’t officially started,” the spokesperson said.

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