- Associated Press - Monday, May 18, 2015

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - California communities must hold public hearings before their police departments accept military equipment such as tanks and grenade launchers under a bill approved Monday in the state Assembly.

The vote came hours after President Barack Obama announced the federal government would stop providing some combat-style gear to local law enforcement.

Police departments have received surplus military equipment for decades, but the practice faces increased scrutiny after police responded in armored trucks and in camouflage against demonstrators protesting the killings of unarmed black men.

California lawmakers said the bill, AB36, would help reduce tensions between police and the people they serve. Under the bill, local government bodies like city councils and board of supervisors must approve the acquisition of military equipment in public meetings.

“This decision needs to be deliberative and not made in haste just because the federal government has made military equipment available,” said Assemblyman Anthony Rendon, D-Lakewood.

Beginning in October, the federal government will also require local government approval for certain types of equipment, including battering rams, riot helmets, Humvees and drones. Other equipment transfers will be banned, including camouflage uniforms, weaponized aircraft and armored vehicles that move on tracks.

The California bill was opposed by the California Police Chiefs Association and League of California Cities, which says local communities are in the best position to decide whether to hold public meetings about military equipment. Lawmakers who voted against AB36 say it may hurt agencies’ ability to receive items such as handcuffs and search-and-rescue helicopters.

“It may put an unnecessary burden on what our law enforcement needs going forward,” said Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Nicolaus.

AB36 passed the Assembly 52-to-11 and heads to the Senate.

The bill’s author, Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose, said she will amend her bill to limit it to tanks and large equipment that have caused the most alarm in communities. Her office has also reached out to the White House to coordinate her legislation with federal policy changes.

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