Assemblywoman Shirley Weber / Photo by Jamie Scott Lytle

A lot of conversations about police reform in Sacramento don’t end up being much of a conversation at all – powerful police unions brand proposals as anti-cop, effectively shutting down any meaningful debate.

That was not what happened with AB 392. And that’s because of Assemblywoman Shirley Weber.

The bill represented the first substantial changes to California law guiding police use of deadly force in a century.

This particular reform was even more controversial than most because police contended it would put their lives at risk. Indeed, for a time, the bill was on life support: It was put on ice last year when lawmakers recognized that they likely couldn’t get a deal done in time.

Yet instead of dying, the bill roared back to life. Eventually, in a shock, police unions dropped their opposition. When the measure came to the Assembly floor, lawmakers one after the other talked as much about Weber herself as the historic change they were about to usher in.

Republican Assemblyman James Gallagher said he started off as a strong opponent of the bill, but that Weber listened to him, worked hard to address his concerns and had put forward a fair compromise.

“In my entire elected experience, never has a bill consumed my thinking as this has,” said Republican Assemblyman Tom Lackey, a former California Highway Patrol officer. “We need to have balance and we need to recognize when we have something that’s bringing us together, and I believe that this bill does that.”

With a Democratic supermajority in the Legislature, Weber didn’t necessarily need Republicans’ support in order to get AB 392 across the finish line. She got it anyway.

Many advocates agreed the reform was long overdue. But virtually everyone who observed the process agreed on something else, too: that no politician but Weber could have pulled off such a feat.

This is part of our Voice of the Year package, highlighting the people who played a major role in shaping civic discussion in 2019.

Sara Libby was VOSD’s managing editor until 2021. She oversaw VOSD’s newsroom and content.

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