A bill to certify police officers in Massachusetts and hold them more accountable for uses of force remains trapped in a legislative deadlock as thousands around the country and here in the Commonwealth march for reforms to the way law enforcement interact with the public.

The House and Senate - both controlled by Democrats - are hung up on the membership of a new state oversight panel and whether to remove protections police are entitled to against civil lawsuits. If history is any guide, the Senate negotiators will have dug in their heels on their more progressive proposal to greatly limit police legal protections against suits. The more moderate House's verison of the bill would only do away with protectons after an officer has been decertified under the new system.

Police unions and support groups are fighting against any changes to their protections with newspaper ads warning lawmakers that passage of reforms now would be too hasty, and filling their inboxes and voicemail with messages from police supporters.

Few lawmakers will have to face voters this election day, another reason the urgency expressed by protesters doesn't seem to be penetrating the golden dome. Nineteen of the 160 House seats will be contested in this November's election, meaning just 21 percent of House members would have to deal with much political fallout from what could be an unpopular vote, especially in more moderate areas where Republicans are fielding candidates this year. Fifteen percent of senators face challenges. However, moderate Democrats facing stiffer competition from Republicans will be wary of taking what could be portrayed as liberal vote, and Democratic leaders tend to protect threatened members by limiting thier exposure to roll-call votes that could harm them back home.

The Legislature's longest-serving Black member, Rep. Russell Holmes from Mattapan, wants to know why his fellow Democrats, who often count Black Americans as their most important constituency, can't seem to reach an agreement that will satisfy both moderate and progressive members of the same party.

"What's most disappointing to me, is that the Speaker, the Senate President, said they will get this done by July 30. They need to just go in that room and say to their conferees 'get this done.' This is the most important thing for the most important constituency in the Democratic Party," Holmes said.

Holmes has been a driving force within the Boston delegation and the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, but the five-term representative has little leverage with House leadership because he is one of the few House members who has in the past dared to criticise Speaker Robert DeLeo. Holmes said he met with DeLeo at the outset of the police debate to work together to make the caucus's priorities' law.

With Holmes and other more junior members of color on the outsde looking in, there are no people of color among the leadership teams of either branch since veteran Boston representatives Byron Rushing and Jeffrey Sanchez were ousted in 2018 by a concerted campaign by state progressives. The task of passing the bill has fallen in part to two members of the Black and Latino Caucus, Rep. Carlos Gonzalez of Springfield and Boston Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz.

DeLeo and Senate President Karen Spilka had urged their members to finish work on the police bill in June and July, when protests over the killing of George Flloyd rocked the country and lead to violent altercations with police in the streets of many american cities. Since then, the urgency of the matter has cooled, at least on Beacon Hill, and lawmakers extended their own legislative deadline until the end of December, giving them several more months to wheel and deal..

Then, protesters again hit the streets. With last week's decision by the Kentucky Attorney General to charge only one of three officers involved in the killing of Breonna Taylor, both the protests and urgency of the reform issue are back. Up to a point, that is. Hundreds marched from Nubian Square to City Hall Plaza Sunday to call for reforms to the way police are overseen and funded. The smaller demonstrations were nowhere near as large as the protests in May and June following George Floyd's death that saw thousands break COVID-19 lockdown orders to march.

Alongside the action in the streets, police unions have continued a steady campaign against some of the reforms found in the versions of the bill being negotiated, especially the proposed limits to qualified immunity protections included in the Senate's proposal.

"Given these turbulent times, the last thing Massachusetts needs is hasty overreaction. In an effort to appease various groups, some elected officials are trying to rush a police bill that would harm, not reform, policing," the Boston Police Patrolmen’s Association wrote in a message to residents last month encouraging them to contact their lawmakers and "ask them to take their time and get it right" and "be thoughtful and craft appropriate legislation to enhance policing in Massachusetts."

Neither the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, Massachsuetts Police Association nor the Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers responded Monday to questions about how they are trying to influence or stall the behind-the-scenes talks on Beacon Hill.

"I've received thousands of emails about the police conference committee over the past few weeks," Sen. William Brownsberger (D-Watertown,) the Senate's lead negotiator on the bill, wrote in an email. Brownsberger had no comment on the negotiator's delay. But members of conference committees rarely have much to say about the secret negotiations, which lawmakers consider as sacrosanct of jury proceedings. Lawmakers insist on complete confidentiality until a final product is presented, often leaving advocates, other lawmakers and the public in the dark about their progress.

"I can assure you that we are working to reach a positive conclusion to this process as soon as possible," Brownsberger wrote.

Brownsberger's House counterpart Rep. Claire Cronin (D-Easton) did not respond to a request for an update on the negotiations, but a spokeswoman simply wrote to GBH News that "the conference committee is continuing their work."

Unsatisfied with the pace of the committee's work, a group of Black leaders sent a letter to the six members last week expressing concern for "the level of influence police unions have had on shaping the police reform legislation that you are currently considering."

"The legislature must meet this political moment with courage and take bold steps to increase accountability for police, address the concerns of our overpoliced communities, protect young people, and ensure there is greater transparency in policing," several religious, social and elected leaders, including the NAACP New England conference, wrote.

Suffolk County Sheriff Steve Tompkins signed the letter, along with several clergy members, the Union of Minority Neighborhoods' Horace Small, Mass Police Reform's Jamarhl Crawford, former Boston City Councilor Tito Jackson and others.

Gov. Charlie Baker may also be losing hope that a compromise is imminent. The governor last week suggested breaking his proposed reforms of the State Police from the larger legislative package if the entire bill can't be agreed upon this session.

"I really want to see that bill, those changes in state law, find their way to my desk before the end of this session," Baker said last week when asked about the State Police's overtime fraud scandal.

Holmes, who is not a member of DeLeo's leadership team or on the police bill's conference committee, would like the six negotiators to focus on the priorities outlined by the Black and Latino Caucus around police certification and public data to deliver a compromise bill that can win a veto-proof two thirds of legislative support.

As Holmes explains it, a veto-proof margin would mean the compromise must appeal to conservative Democrats and at least some Republicans, perhaps including Gov. Baker himself, and avoid a veto showdown.

"Unfortunately you get to the other place where you align so much with the conservative Ds that you lose, kind of, progressives. And so trying to balance that is what we would like," Holmes said.