Walz calls special session on police accountability, bonding

Gov. Tim Walz speaks at a press conference.
Gov. Tim Walz speaks at a press conference in St. Paul on Wednesday as he announces a special session that is set to start Friday.
Evan Frost | MPR News

Updated: June 11, 5:13 p.m.

On the eve of the start of a special legislative session, Gov. Tim Walz and fellow Democrats in the state Legislature proposed a wide-ranging set of measures designed to overhaul policing in the wake of killing of George Floyd.

The DFL plan includes changes in use-of-force laws to prevent wrongful deaths, greater citizen oversight of police, a requirement for officers to intervene in wrongdoing and a ban on so-called warrior training, which promotes an aggressive style of policing.

“Minnesota will change the way we do policing. Minnesota will change what accountability looks like, and Minnesota will start to lift up those voices that for too long have felt they haven’t been heard,” Walz told reporters Thursday.

Walz said while many of the proposals are not new, “we need to make sure that they move through and are signed into law and then most importantly are enacted."

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Walz on Wednesday ordered the special legislative session to start on Friday and said he’d push lawmakers to tackle a public works spending package as well as issues of police accountability and economic equality.

“The time to debate and walk away is over,” Walz said, declining to put a date on when the special session would end.

"We will not Minnesota Nice our way out of the situation we find ourselves in. This requires bold action," Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan said of the criminal justice and economic equality agenda she and Walz want considered.

DFL state Sen. Jeff Hayden, of Minneapolis, whose district covers where Floyd died, said "its up to us in the Legislature to make transformative change."

"Black folks are sick and tired of literally suffering from people to wait until the moment is right," Hayden said during a news conference on Thursday. "We want to have law enforcement officers who know our community. We want them to be active in our community."

Senate Republicans are expected to discuss their special session agenda on Friday.

‘Every solution on the table’

On Wednesday, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo vowed to make sweeping changes in his department in the wake of Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis police custody.

Among his first steps, Arradondo said he is withdrawing from contract talks with the police union and will seek changes on issues of force, the role of supervisors and how officers are disciplined and fired.

Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey mentioned the state’s mandatory arbitration process as something that needed changing in order to set the Minneapolis police on the right path. Arradondo expressed frustration over the challenges of trying to fire a police officer accused of wrongdoing.

Walz, a longtime teachers union member and strong union supporter, acknowledged such changes make some union supporters uncomfortable but he said that union members need to stand up to change a system that shields the kind of behavior that contributed to Floyd's death.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, has said he thinks police and criminal justice reform issues will require more time than a short special session. 

Walz rejected that notion Wednesday, suggesting further delay could lead to more unrest.

"These ideas have been around for generations," Walz said. "Let's get as much done as we can. Let's not believe this is too hard."

DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman, of Brooklyn Park, said the special session would likely go until July 4.

"We will take as long as it takes to address that injustice," she said Thursday, invoking George Floyd’s name.

Walz said he supports recommendations on police reform and accountability that will be introduced by the Minnesota People of Color and Indigenous Caucus, as well as those from a working group on the police use of deadly force headed by Attorney General Keith Ellison.

Proposals include changing rules for police use of force, funding for alternatives to policing,  greater police oversight and training reform. 

"The world is watching how we act on this,” Walz said. ”Let's seize this moment. Let's not think small. Let's think big.”

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said that he doesn’t believe policing is systematically racist and radical change is necessary.

“I think it’s irresponsible for us to say the entire system is bad. And maybe in Minneapolis it's more flawed than in other places. But we certainly need to fix that,” he said. “We can’t go without policing.”

COVID-19 ‘plateaued’?

Wednesday also marked the first day that COVID-19 restrictions take a step back as businesses reopen, including indoor bar and restaurant service at limited capacity.

Walz was asked about the next phases of reopening the economy while still managing the spread of COVID-19.

Recent numbers show that the daily counts of people currently hospitalized or needing intensive care has leveled out and appears to be dropping. Those are key metrics for state health leaders and good news they are dipping, although officials say a resurgence is possible and that Minnesota cannot be complacent as citizens return to bars restaurants and other social spaces.

"It feels to me like this thing has plateaued,” Walz told reporters. If that’s the case, he said, there can be more discussion about expanding youth sports, camps and professional sports.

Walz also said he's extending the peacetime emergency he called to deal with COVID-19 for another 30 days. That's the underlying reason for the special session being scheduled for when it is. It would take a vote of both chambers to undo it.

Public works bill

Walz and other Democrats had pushed for a $2 billion public works spending package at the end of the regular legislative session in May. Republicans in the Minnesota House, however, kept the bill from getting the three-fifths supermajority needed for passage.

Daudt had previously said there wouldn’t be GOP support unless Walz ended the peacetime emergency. Daudt additionally argued the bill was too big.

Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt on special session
by Cathy Wurzer

“Bringing a bill to the floor that is between two and three times the biennial average and puts Minnesotans on the hook for debt service we cannot afford is a disservice to Minnesotans," he said.

Walz on Wednesday said doing a bonding bill now and letting the state take on debt to fund it would be a “smart financial move at a time of low interest rates. It’s a smart move at a time of recession. I don’t want to see us ignoring what needs to be done.”

Some of the public infrastructure projects could aid in Minneapolis rebuilding, he added. General obligation bonds can't go for private projects, but some community oriented projects could qualify for other bonds.