Compromise police bill in question as some Dems say it’s not enough

They said the the plan doesn't have enough changes to state law in key areas.

Compromise police bill in question as some Dems say it’s not enough

The fate of a compromise bill over how police are policed was thrust into uncertainty at the Minnesota Capitol Monday as an influential group of Democratic lawmakers said it’s not enough.

They said the the current plan doesn’t have enough changes to state law in several areas, including how police conduct traffic stops, serve warrants, release body camera footage to relatives, or are accountable to civilian oversight for standards and discipline.

Whether the objections by lawmakers — many of whom represent areas or have personal ties to Black men killed by police — will in the end amount to late-breaking legislative drama and brinksmanship, or whether it could actually increase the odds of a partial state government shutdown remained unclear Monday, as lawmakers approach a June 30 deadline to pass a two-year state budget.

In the meantime, Gov. Tim Walz, who is facing heavy pressure from some unsatisfied Democrats, announced Monday that he’s taking a few of the matters into his own hands — to the limited extent possible he has under his executive authority — to enact some of the measures sought by those seeking changes after the deaths of George Floyd and Daunte Wright, unarmed Black men killed by Twin Cities police in the past two years.

As is often the case at the Capitol — and is especially the case now with no single party control of the Legislature — the closing days promise to be fluid and tricky to predict or even follow.

Here’s the situation:

BIPARTISAN PLAN

Late Saturday night, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, who presides over the DFL-controlled House, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, who effectively runs the GOP-controlled Senate, announced they had largely reached an agreement on changes to policing laws that became front and center for lawmakers since shortly after Memorial Day 2020, when Floyd was killed by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, who was convicted of murder, and the widespread protests over the killing that spawned days of lawlessness and violence.

Complicating matters is a near constant flow of news of shootings in largely minority neighborhoods of cities across America, including Minneapolis, prompting Republicans to accuse Democrats of trying to weaken and undercut police at the precise moment when their presence is needed most.

At one point, Hortman said Democrats had proposed more than 100 changes. Republicans opposed all but a few. In the end, somewhere between a few and a little more than a dozen (depending on how you count) of Democrats’ ambitions made it into the compromise, which has the blessings of Gov. Walz, a Democrat.

Among them were new regulations to the use of no-knock warrants, changes to how court and administrative fines and fees work, reforms to how law enforcement can seize property, and enhanced capabilities to track police misconduct.

‘NOT NEARLY GOOD ENOUGH’

“That is not nearly good enough,” Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, said Monday at a news conference of lawmakers from the Democratic-Farmer-Labor People of Color and Indigenous Caucus. The POCI Caucus, as it’s known, has become a major influence in the sprawling House DFL caucus, not only because its members speak from the experience of minorities in Minnesota, but also because its 16 members carry enough votes to bust the DFL’s majority.

Mariani, who chairs the public safety committee and is the chief author of the bill covering policing, acknowledged he would likely vote in favor of the compromise bill, but no other members of the caucus present at Monday’s news conference pledged to do so.

State Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville, who chairs the House judiciary committee, stepped up to the microphone to deflect the question. “That’s not a fair question because that’s not the bill we will be passing off the House floor,” she said.

Here’s the plan, according to her and others: When the compromise plan reaches the floor of the House Tuesday, POCI caucus members plan to demand votes on a number of amendments that would reinstate several of their priorities that thus far haven’t made the cut.

Among them: Changing how armed police officers make routine traffic stops for such relatively minor infractions as expired plates — as was the pretext for Wright being stopped in Brooklyn Center; enacting “sign and release” warrants for some offenses, an attempt to avoid the situation where officers found themselves when they arrested Wright after learning he was wanted on a felony warrant in connection to a gun charge; increasing civilian oversight of police; and mandating that police release body camera footage to family members of people shot by police within days.

POCI caucus members believe those provisions will pass off the House floor.

That would put the ball in the Senate’s court. Gazelka on Tuesday said he didn’t expect the Senate to approve the changes.

In a news conference Monday, he said Republicans have given up some of their law enforcement-related priorities, including proposals to protect officers from “doxing” by personal information about them being published online and stricter regulations of charitable bail organizations.

If the Senate votes to not adopt the House amendments, several courses could ensue.

Bottom line: If neither group relents, no bill will advance to Walz’s desk for his signature. That would theoretically lead to a shutdown of departments funded by the larger public safety bill, including the Department of Corrections. Walz, however, has pledged to keep the prisons operating and workers being paid, even if it’s legally dubious.

WALZ ANNOUNCES ORDERS

For his part, Walz said he agreed with the frustrations of the POCI caucus, as did Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, herself a former member of the caucus.

“I agree with them,” Walz said. “It’s not enough, but I don’t think saying that is going to change the minds of Republicans. … That’s the reality of a divided Legislature.”

Walz said he doesn’t know what the outcome will be. “They’ll have to vote their conscience on it, but the ramifications are pretty dramatic,” he said, stopping short of explicitly urging any specific action. He suggested he would not veto any public safety bill that reaches his desk.

As a sort of consolation prize, Walz announced he’s taking several executive actions to try to incorporate some of the changes sought in state law enforcement agencies. For example, one order instructs the State Patrol, Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Department of Natural Resources and other state law enforcement agencies to “allow families suffering the loss of a loved one in a deadly force encounter with police to view video of the incident within five days,” according to a statement from his office.

Walz’s executive action also includes $15 million for violence prevention programs and changes to the state’s policy on viewing of body camera footage.

The $15 million in grants, directed from funding received via the American Rescue Plan federal stimulus package, will go toward community safety and violence intervention programs, as well as survivor support grants. The initiative also includes policy changes to increase transparency and accountability through the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST).

This report contains information from the Associated Press.