Texas police officers would have to carry liability insurance under proposed law
Texas drivers are required to have insurance when they are on the roads. Some hospitals in the state require medical providers to have their own malpractice insurance.
But police officers in Texas are not required to have any form of insurance when they’re on the job.
A bill introduced last week by Rep. Jolanda Jones, D- Houston, would change that by requiring liability insurance for every working law enforcement officer.
“I gotta have car insurance, otherwise I can’t drive,” Jones told reporters Wednesday morning. “Police officers can be more dangerous than a car — the police officer has a gun and that weapon is designed to kill people.”
Jones’ proposed legislation states a law enforcement agency cannot hire a police officer “unless the peace officer obtains and continuously maintains liability insurance to cover damages resulting from any misconduct, including intentional, negligent, or willful acts, committed” by the officer while on duty.
The bill already faces opposition.
Charley Wilkinson, the CEO of the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, or CLEAT, called the legislation an “easy political attack” on shift workers and law enforcement officers.
“This is a great example of something that doesn’t require a fix,” Wilkinson told The Texas Newsroom. “Do we need more training? Yes, let’s put more money on that.”
Wilkinson added, requiring personal liability insurance for police officers will make it even harder for agencies to recruit personnel.
“You would (also) drive the working people out of the job — they wouldn’t afford the policy,” Wilkinson said. “You would drive the poor working folks in certain areas, particularly rural areas, and you would drive them out of the job or it becomes a benefit in the political subdivision where they had to pay it and they would have to raise taxes.”
Clint McNear, the field supervisor of the Texas Municipal Police Association, said his organization would not support the bill because it would “add a burden of an additional cost or fee that police officers are required to pay.”
“We are in a recruiting crisis,” McNear said. “We can't retain officers and we can’t recruit officers.”
House Speaker Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, declined to comment.
Calls for police reform
Jones and other Democrats have increased their calls for police reforms in Texas.
Besides this bill, Sen. Roland Gutierrez, D-San Antonio, has filed legislation this session that would end qualified immunity. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, qualified immunity “protects state and local officials, including law enforcement officers, from individual liability unless the official violated a clearly established constitutional right.”
The change would make officers more susceptible to lawsuits from victims of police violence.
Jones and other lawmakers admit that ending qualified immunity would be challenging to pass in the state’s Republican-controlled legislature.
But Jones’ proposal has some GOP support. Rep. Ron Reynolds, R-Missouri City and the chair of the Texas Legislative Black Caucus, said Jones’ bill is about police accountability, something he said is especially needed to protect African Americans and minorities.
“Police Accountability is something that far too often negates people of African American descent and other communities of color from receiving justice, because there is not much accountability,” Reynolds told reporters Wednesday. “This bill doesn't seem to solve all the problems, but it certainly will be a tool to help, I believe, reduce the incidence of police having incidents of misconduct.”
Currently, Texas Democrats do not have enough votes to pass the bill themselves.
Jones also argued the bill is fiscally conservative because it would prevent the state from using taxpayer dollars to pay out damages and claims of misconduct, along with willful and negligent acts.
“You ought to be for the government not having to pay for officers that get to do to people what they did to Tyre Nichols,” Jones said.
Nichols was a 29-year-old Black motorist pulled over by Memphis police on Jan. 7 “for what police said was reckless driving,” according to NPR. “After attempting to flee on foot, Nichols was aggressively beaten by police, newly released police video shows. Three days later, he died in the hospital.”
Protests sprung up across the U.S. after the release of body camera footage showing officers beating Nichols.