House Democrats move quickly on police changes

Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman
Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman, of Brooklyn Park, calls for members to stand in silence and bow their heads for 8 minutes and 46 seconds in honor of George Floyd on Friday as the Minnesota Legislature met in a special session.
Glen Stubbe | Star Tribune via AP file

House Democrats moved quickly Monday toward passing a wide-ranging bill aimed at preventing police brutality.

Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, who chairs the House public safety committee, said the speed is necessary after the Memorial Day killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. It was a horrible event that he doesn’t want repeated, Mariani said. 

“In my opinion and in the opinion of many people, including a large swath of the public, not only an unacceptable, horrific outcome but also one that is looking all too familiar in terms of the dynamics of police killings involving African American men.”

Mariani’s committee heard public testimony on the package of proposals during a Saturday hearing that lasted more than seven hours.

The three-part package includes new use-of-force standards, training requirements and mental health counseling. It bans chokeholds and what's called warrior training, which promotes an aggressive style of policing. 

The public wants police officers held accountable for misconduct, said Rep. Aisha Gomez, DFL- Minneapolis, who represents the area where Floyd was killed, adding that a citizen-oversight panel is needed because internal reviews rarely work.

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“The intent here is to kind of beef up the investigative authority of these bodies so that they’re able to really help identify those cases where there are incidents or individuals that are imperiling the public trust,” Gomez said. 

The legislation would also allow cities to require police to live in the community they serve. Rep. Jim Nash, R-Waconia, said he thinks such a requirement would limit the pool of talent available to police departments.

“I understand the need to have an interaction or a connection to the community,” he said. “But I just have some reservations about this going on.”

The complex bill grew even more complicated Monday when the House government operations committee added an amendment to allow felons to vote once they complete incarceration. Right now, felons must also complete probation to vote again. Lawmakers have debated the proposal for years.

“This is the right thing to do. It’s always the right time to do the right thing to do,” said Rep. Ray Dehn, DFL-Minneapolis, a longtime supporter of the change.

Republican state Rep. Joe McDonald, of Delano, said he is open to the idea of restoring felon voting rights, but he objected to attaching it to the larger set of proposals.

“This should be a standalone bill or at least not attached to this bill because it will create, obviously, some controversy and some issues that members won’t be able to support it,” McDonald said. “So, I wish it would be two different votes.”

The full House is expected to vote on the bill later this week.

Meanwhile, the Senate is getting to work Tuesday morning on its police accountability measures. Members of the Senate judiciary committee will hold an informational hearing on five bills related to use-of-force standards, peer support and law enforcement training and hiring.

Time is short, as Senate Republicans plan to end their special session work on Friday. 

Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, raised concerns about moving too fast and too soon after Floyd’s killing.

“I really felt that there needed to be more of a cooling down period before we took this up, and I’m not talking about a year. I’m talking about a few weeks,” Scott said. “I feel like now we’re trying to rush through a bunch of legislation.”

Editor’s note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the party affiliation of Rep. Ray Dehn, DFL-Minneapolis.