SALT LAKE CITY — The Utah State Legislature is quickly advancing a bill that would ban police from using their knees on someone's neck, restricting breathing.
The legislature's interim Law Enforcement and Criminal Justice Committee unanimously passed a bill by Rep. Sandra Hollins, D-Salt Lake City, that would ban the "knee on neck" holds that were seen on the video of George Floyd being killed by Minneapolis police officers that sparked global protests.
The bill, which is co-sponsored by Senate Minority Whip Luz Escamilla, D-Salt Lake City, and Senate Majority Leader Evan Vickers, R-Cedar City, also prohibits Utah's Peace Officer Standards and Training and police agencies from teaching "chokeholds," "carotid restraints" and any other type of restraint. It does not explicitly ban them, giving officers the potential to use it in a life-threatening situation.
But officers who use a chokehold or kneehold or any other type of restraint could also face an investigation by prosecutors for aggravated assault.
"The kneeling on someone's neck and constricting their breathing is inhumane," Rep. Hollins told the committee, adding that this is the first of many bills being brought to reform use of force in policing.
The bill had support from Lone Peak Police Chief Brian Gwilliam, who appeared on behalf of the Utah Chiefs of Police Association.
But Sen. Daniel Thatcher, R-West Valley City, raised some concerns about prohibiting the teaching of carotid restraint, where the blood flow is restricted to knock someone out quickly.
"I think prohibiting kneeling on the throat and neck, that’s not even low-hanging fruit. That’s fruit that’s literally sitting on the ground. There is nowhere where I think you will find someone defending that behavior. It's psychotic. It should never be done. There is a world of difference, though, between a chokehold done by an untrained, unqualified person, and a carotid restraint done by someone who is specifically and expertly trained in its application," he said.
Sen. Thatcher's comments brought a rebuke from Rep. Hollins.
"My goal in the end is to protect the public, to have our communities of color feel safe when they call the police and to protect our police," she said, adding: "It may be fruit that’s sitting on the ground for you, but it's very important legislation to the communities that I serve. For people who have reached out to me in my community, for the Black community. It is not low hanging fruit. It’s fruit that is going make a difference in our community and it's going to make them feel safe enough that they know if they call police it will not be implemented. Does it go far enough? Absolutely not. And we’re continuing to have this conversation."
Earlier this week, Governor Gary Herbert banned chokeholds by Utah's Department of Public Safety and Utah's Department of Corrections. The bill is expected to get voted on during the special session of the legislature that starts on Thursday.