Democrats say policing bill is just first step

Three state representatives talk while wearing masks.
Democratic State Reps, Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville, Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, and Rep. Liz Olson, DFL-Duluth talk at the start of the special session Monday in St. Paul.
Glenn Stubbe | Star Tribune via AP

A police accountability bill that the House and Senate passed in a special session early Tuesday morning is headed for the desk of Gov. Tim Walz for his signature. The legislation was crafted in behind-the-scenes negotiations and took shape quickly following the police killing of George Floyd on Memorial Day. 

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, credited the family of Floyd and other Minnesotans killed by police for pushing for legislative action. Hortman said the policing bill is a considerable step forward, but she added that it is not nearly enough.

“It was important to tell people that their voices were heard,” she said. “It was especially important to tell the families that the work that they’ve been doing to bring these issues to the fore were worth it and we’ve heard them and that their actions mattered. But we’re nowhere near done with the work in this area.”

The legislation sets new rules for police training and conduct, with a goal of preventing future incidents like the Floyd case. It largely bans police from using chokeholds and bans what's known as warrior training. Officers will be required to intervene in incidents and to report cases of excessive force. A new advisory panel will be established for the Peace Officers Standards and Training Board. And local governments will be able to offer incentives to encourage police officers to live in the cities they serve. 

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Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said the bill reflects compromise and commonsense reform. He said the changes will put the safety of Minnesotans first.

“This is the very essence of what we do here, and that is take many ideas and work together, Republicans and Democrats and House and Senate, to actually pass something that makes a difference,” he said. “And I do think this bill would make a difference.”

Gazelka said any additional work on the issue should wait until the next regular session when there is time for thorough hearings. Lawmakers have already held two special sessions this year because of Walz’s emergency declaration to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Sen. Jeff Hayden supported the bill, but he said he did so reluctantly. Hayden, a DFLer who is black and represents the area of Minneapolis where Floyd was killed, said the bill falls short on citizen oversight, on consequences for police misconduct and on broader inequity issues.  

“We have a lot of work to be done if we’re going to actually solve this issue, if we’re actually going to deal with structural changes. If we’re going to wake up  if we’re going to get out of denial, if we’re going to stop being last in every single quality of life indicator for people of color, we’re going to have to do much better,” he said.

Walz also said he wanted more in the legislation, but he called the bill that passed a critical step toward justice. He also lauded the cooperation that brought the measure together.

“Families, activists and police and police representation were involved in this,” Walz said. “They sat at the table. I think at a time when everybody wants to put us in separate camps and everybody wants to have you come down on one side or the other, this piece of legislation was crafted with everybody at the table. And so, it’s a good start.”