DFL lawmakers threaten to hold up budget to tighten police restrictions

Minnesota Democratic state lawmakers are threatening to bring state government to the brink of shutdown unless the Legislature passes tougher restrictions on police after the killing of a Black man in a Twin Cities suburb.

A dozen state lawmakers, speaking from outside the heavily guarded Brooklyn Center Police Department building Wednesday morning, pressed Republicans who control the Senate to take up the legislation before budget negotiations continue. Lawmakers must pass a budget by July 1, or government shuts down.

"We don't want fact-finding hearings," said state Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis. "We want them to pass legislation."

Police groups said no additional accountability measures are needed after the death of Daunte Wright during a traffic stop on Sunday afternoon. Wright died when Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter, who has since resigned and been charged with second-degree manslaughter, shot him with her handgun instead of using her Taser. 

Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka has committed to holding hearings on police accountability within the next two weeks but not to pass legislation. He told reporters this week that policing changes approved by the Legislature in summer 2020 after the death of another Black man, George Floyd, went far enough.

"I'm not promising that we're going to do more reform. I'm promising to listen to see if something is warranted," said Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake. "The hearings are for fact finding at this point."

Democratic lawmakers in the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus, or POCI, are seeking a series of changes:

  • Prohibiting police officers from pulling over drivers for equipment violations, including excessive window tint or broken turn signals, headlights or tail lights
  • Restricting the use of no-knock warrants
  • Ending qualified immunity, which protects police officers from civil lawsuits in certain situations
  • Requiring police to follow a statewide model policy on crowd control tactics

Brian Peters, executive director of the Minneapolis Police and Peace Officers Association, said none of the proposed changes were necessary and criticized Democrats for a "knee-jerk, emotional reaction" to Wright's death.

"This is going to be an unpopular statement but Daunte Wright, if he just would have complied -- he was told he was under arrest, they were arresting him for a warrant on weapons, he set off a chain of events that unfortunately led to his death," Peters said during a Wednesday morning appearance on WCCO Radio. "I’m not excusing it, but what we’re seeing in policing these days is non-compliance by the public."

The top House Democrats, Speaker Melissa Hortman and Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, have not endorsed the threat to stop budget negotiations while saying "our caucus will work together to determine our next steps."

Earlier this session, a small group of Democrats successfully blocked a separate police bill. The legislation, which would've created a $35 million fund to pay for outside police help during the Derek Chauvin murder trial, has still never passed the House.

Torres Ray said the POCI caucus had talked with Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday and characterized Walz as "ready to support" all the police legislation Democrats are proposing.

Walz does support several of the proposals, said Teddy Tschann, a spokesman for the governor. Among them: a fund to support families affected by police killings, enhancing the state's police regulatory board, ending no-knock warrants, strengthening civilian oversight of police departments, and reexamining how police respond to minor traffic stops.

Community activists appeared with the Democratic lawmakers at Wednesday's news conference to urge action.

"Something has to give. The people of this state are tired," said Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations of Minnesota. "We are tired of empty promises. We are tired of legislators saying they’re going to do something and then not doing anything."