GOP effort to regulate police oversight boards stumbles over subpoena power

Mar 19, 2019

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (OSBORNE)  --  Republican state lawmakers are divided over a proposal to limit the authority of police oversight boards like the one approved last fall by Nashville voters.

Credit MNPD

Earlier this month, the Tennessee House passed a measure stripping such boards of subpoena power. During committee debate, Republican Majority Leader William Lamberth insisted giving such boards the ability to compel witness testimony would put police officers at risk.

“It is critical that our police officers, that our cops, have the same basic civil liberties and protections that the criminals that they may apprehend have. So for this particular bill I just think it’s important to put some guardrails on any type of a non-elected tribunal that’s out there.”

On Monday the state Senate passed it’s own version of the oversight bill. But Republicans in the upper chamber amended the measure to allow oversight boards to retain subpoena authority with a judge’s consent.

Knoxville GOP Senator Becky Duncan Massey asked bill sponsor Republican Mike Bell to make that change, noting that Knoxville has had a police oversight board with subpoena power for decades.

“We’ve had the citizen advisory board there for about thirty years and it’s worked well, and with the amendment this makes it still a workable thing and I do appreciate the sponsor’s work on this.”

The measure goes next to conference committee where lawmakers will attempt to reconcile the two versions of the bill. That may prove difficult. On Monday fellow legislators extracted a promise from Senator Bell to fight to retain subpoena authority in the final proposal.