A group of Democratic representatives took over the Pennsylvania House floor early Monday afternoon, preventing the scheduled session from beginning. Displaying a “Black Lives Matter” banner next to the speaker’s podium, a series of legislators delivered remarks demanding that the House consider police reform legislation.
“We are sick of lip service. We want change,” said Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia). “We are not moving forward until we move forward on what the needs of Pennsylvanians are.”
At 2:15 p.m., more than an hour after the session was scheduled to begin, House Speaker Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) took the rostrum and suggested that the governor could call a special legislative session on police reform, which he said he would support.
“We have to address this injustice,” he said as he appeared to get choked up.
During the hour of speeches by Democrats, Rep. Stephen Kinsey (D-Philadelphia), Chair of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, pointed to 19 bills that he said the caucus wants the House to debate, including House 1551, and 1664, which relate mental health evaluations and police use of force policies, respectively.
“We as legislators must do better,” said Kinsey.
He then led those assembled in kneeling for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, the amount of time a police officer knelt on the neck of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month.
Many of the bills were introduced in 2019 and have sat in the House Judiciary Committee without a vote. Rep. Rob Kauffman (R-Franklin), whose chairmanship of the committee allows him to set its agenda, said through a spokesperson Monday that he was not available to comment.
Gov. Tom Wolf said in a press conference that he supported the House Democrats’ protest.
“I think that’s fine. I support what they’re doing,” he said. “When you look at the criminal justice system: there are two Pennsylvanias. There’s one Pennsylvania for you if you’re white, and one if you’re not.”
Wolf’s spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment regarding a potential special session. The last special session of the Pennsylvania legislature came at the call of former Gov. Ed Rendell (D) in 2010 to address transportation. Gov. Wolf declined a push to do so last summer to address gun violence.
Democratic Whip Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia) streamed the proceedings live on Facebook. The official cameras remained off because the speaker had not officially gaveled the chamber into session.
This story will be updated.
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