House passes police restrictions; no deal with Senate

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 June 12, 2020, as the Minnesota State Legislature met in a special session.
Glen Stubbe | Star Tribune via AP file

Minnesota lawmakers are entering the final day of a special session Friday with most of their key agenda items still unresolved. The House and Senate remain far apart on the proposed public safety changes prompted by the killing of George Floyd. The DFL-controlled House passed its sweeping package late Thursday night, but the Republican-controlled Senate is sticking with a more limited set of steps.

The House spent hours Thursday night debating a DFL-crafted plan aimed at preventing police brutality and increasing accountability for officers.

Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, the chair of the public safety committee, said the approach is about more than getting rid of “bad apples,” including those responsible for the death of Floyd and other black men.

“It’s not the apples, it’s the tree. And the tree doesn’t have its roots only in Minneapolis. It has sprouted all across our nation, and whether we choose to see it or not, all across our state of Minnesota.” 

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The wide-ranging House legislation would put the state attorney general in charge of all officer-involved deaths and establish a special unit in the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to investigate those deaths. It changes deadly force standards and would allow communities to set residency requirements for officers. The bill also prohibits the use of choke holds and bans the aggressive style of policing known as warrior training.

Rep. Mohamed Noor, DFL-Minneapolis, said passing the bill is a defining moment for the state and a matter of life and death.

“We need to ensure that no one is harmed, no one ever dies in the hands of police, the same people who are supposed to protect them.”

Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, tried unsuccessfully to ban cities from disbanding or defunding police departments. Franson said she is concerned about the recent discussion in Minneapolis on the subject and the crime seen there since the killing of Floyd.

“If the police are eliminated, if law enforcement is eliminated, you can expect this type of crime to continue or get worse. It will be Gotham City on steroids,” Franson said.

Senate Republicans passed their own, smaller set of public safety measures earlier this week. The bills include the chokehold ban, increased training and support for police officers, background checks for law enforcement staff and mandatory reporting requirements in deadly force incidents.

Democrats say the plan falls short. But Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said that criticism is unfair, noting that those measures are also part of the House plan.

“They want to imply that we are doing nothing and that is flat-out not true. And frankly, dishonesty is not good for Minnesota.”

Time is running short. Gazelka still plans to adjourn the special session Friday. 

Agreement on the distribution of $841 million of federal money for COVID-19 expenses and a $1.35 billion public works bonding bill are within reach, he said, although DFL Gov. Tim Walz is pushing for a $2 billion bonding bill.

“We are still listening. There may be other things that we pick up, but it’s got to be because there was an agreement,” Gazaelka said. “And if they send them back with things that we don’t agree, I’m not sure that they will happen.”

Gazelka said he is open to coming back for another special session if all sides can agree on what to pass ahead of time. There was no agreement for this special session, because it was triggered automatically as a result of Walz extending the peacetime emergency he declared to address COVID-19 matters.

For now, Walz won’t say whether he would call another special session. He just wants lawmakers to just keep working.

Gazelka’s timeline is a problem, Walz said.

“We found ourselves this week not being able to hold bipartisan meetings, because everybody was so rushed,” Walz said. “And my thought was, the only reason we’re rushed is that you said Friday. Why don’t we just change that to Tuesday?”

Correction (June 19, 2020): Rep. Mary Franson's party affiliation was misidentified in an earlier version of this story.