Democrats say they’ll keep pushing for police changes

The Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul
With time running short at the Minnesota Capitol to finish work on a new state budget, a public safety bill drew strong criticism from many Democrats.
Andrew Krueger | MPR News

With fewer than three days to enact key aspects of the state budget before the end of the fiscal year, many Democrats and their allies said Monday they don’t like the bill because it lacks the police accountability provisions they wanted. And Gov. Tim Walz issued executive orders to try to ease some of their concerns.

Members of the People Of Color and Indigenous (POCI) Caucus, who are all Democrats, also spoke out against the bill. Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul — a member of the caucus and the chair of the House public safety committee — blamed Senate Republicans for not accepting House positions on police reform. He said the one exception was a change in the use of no-knock warrants.

“It’s time for the Senate majority to get serious, to get serious about defending the constitutional rights of each and every human being in Minnesota, and that includes Black men and women,” Mariani said, citing the deaths of George Floyd, Daunte Wright and Philando Castile.

Members of the POCI caucus said they will try to accomplish what they could not in negotiations with the Senate by adding several amendments to the bill. 

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Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville, said those proposals include changes in police traffic stops, sign and release warrants and extending the statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits to six years.

“This is really about making sure that families who are impacted by police violence have an opportunity to be heard,” said Becker-Finn.

Despite their criticism of the bill, POCI caucus members stopped short of saying they would vote against it. 

With lawmakers still at odds on some aspects of the bill, Gov. Tim Walz took executive action to resolve some of the issues. His order includes $15 million for community violence prevention grants, changes in accountability through the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training and directing state law enforcement agencies to develop policy to allow families quicker access to video of deadly force encounters with police.

Walz, a Democrat, said he wants a public safety system focused on transparency, accountability and violence prevention.

In the Senate, majority Republicans say the public safety measure is a good compromise that funds state courts, the prison system and the state patrol.

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, the chair of the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, said there was a reason Republicans didn’t support changes to pretextual traffic stops.

"Law enforcement recommended that particularly items that were of a safety nature should continue at a stop,” Limmer said. “One doesn't want to have headlights out driving at night, because one could hurt people. Pretty obvious."   

That argument isn’t convincing to those who have been active in calling for changes in policing.

Members of the Minnesota chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations gathered in the Capitol rotunda to criticize the public safety bill. The group’s executive director, Jaylani Hussein, called on lawmakers to oppose the bill and for Walz to veto it.

“This session cannot end without serious police accountability,” Hussein said, “and we see right now that this latest deal is a joke.”