Minnesota lawmakers reach deal on police accountability measures

Lawmakers have been negotiating police accountability measures since the May 25 death of Floyd.

Minnesota’s divided Legislature struck a deal to strengthen police accountability Monday night, delivering a response two months after the death of George Floyd at the knee of a now-fired Minneapolis police officer.

The House quickly voted 102-29 to approve the changes. After midnight, the Senate approved the bill in a 60-7 vote. Gov. Tim Walz supports the agreed-upon legislation.

The bill would:

  • Create a separate use of force investigative unit within the BCA
  • Allow cities to offer incentives to get cops to live within city limits
  • Ban chokeholds/other neck restraints except to protect a person from “imminent harm”
  • Ban warrior training
  • Increase reporting of use of force incidents
  • Require officers to intervene when a fellow cop uses unreasonable force
  • Add two new public members to the state’s police licensing board
  • Create new community advisory council to the licensing board
  • Overhaul the police arbitration process. The arbitrator would be chosen from a six-person rotation in alphabetical order, and neither the officer nor the employer could be involved in choosing the arbitrator.

If legislation does pass, it would be a reversal of lawmakers’ failure to act during the first special session last month.

Monday morning, a deal on police accountability looked to be near before it fell apart Monday afternoon and lawmakers retreated behind closed doors to work it out.

Monday morning, Republicans who control the Senate and Democrats in charge of the House both said they expected a police accountability bill to pass by the end of the day. Senate Republicans said their plan was to adjourn a special session at midnight and leave town whether there was a deal or not.

“We are very close and we have hopes we can accomplish (police accountability) today,” House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said on the House floor Monday morning.

Instead, lawmakers made references to private negotiating sessions and talked vaguely about what would be in the final bill. Rank-and-file lawmakers didn’t see the final language until between 9 and 10 p.m., giving them little time to review it. The public didn’t see the legislation until 10 p.m., just 45 minutes before the House reconvened to start debating it.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, laid out a midnight deadline. It’s a self-imposed stopping time; nothing requires lawmakers to adjourn a special session at a particular moment.

“By midnight tonight, you’ll know what was going to get done or not get done,” Gazelka told reporters. “It is our plan to be done by midnight.”

Lawmakers have been negotiating police accountability measures since the May 25 death of Floyd, who died after a now-fired Minneapolis police officer held him to the ground by putting his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes.

They have been working entirely behind closed doors, mostly via Zoom and telephone calls. The public, which clamored for change after Floyd’s death, has been shut out of the process and a security fence has remained around the closed-off Capitol for nearly two months.

Other key pieces of legislation appear to have less hope than the policing issue.

A $1.9 billion package of construction projects, building improvements and tax breaks has stalled because of opposition from House Republicans, whose votes are required to pass the bill.

Borrowing bills require 60 percent support to pass in either chamber. House Democrats need to pick up six GOP votes, but Republican members are blocking the bill as they try to ask Gov. Tim Walz to relinquish some of his emergency powers over the coronavirus pandemic.

“Obviously we had high hopes that we’d get a lot of things accomplished,” said House Republican Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown. “Unfortunately, it does not look like a lot will get accomplished, at least not today.”

The inaction now has lawmakers looking ahead.

As virus cases increase, Walz could extend his emergency powers in August, which would trigger another special session. And many lawmakers are eying the November election, when both parties have hopes of taking back control of the divided state Legislature.

Categories: Minnesota News