Minnesota ends special session without deal on policing

A special session of the Minnesota Legislature ended Saturday without agreement on remaking policing in the state where George Floyd was killed.

The Democratic-controlled House early Friday passed an extensive package of police accountability measures wrapped into one bill. It included elements of five more modest policing bills that the Republican-controlled Senate  passed earlier in the week  but went farther than Republicans were willing to accept.

The Senate adjourned just after 6 a.m. Saturday, prompting criticism from minority Democrats.

"I'm deeply disappointed that Senate Republicans ended the special session before our job was done," Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent tweeted. "We should stay and finish the work of the people of Minnesota."

GOP Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, of East Gull Lake, repeatedly had said that Friday was his deadline for adjournment, and that lawmakers should focus on proposals both parties can support. 

"We're not walking away from Minnesota here, but I think we could all benefit from a breather," Gazelka said just before adjournment, Minnesota Public Radio News reported.

The special session was necessary for Democratic Gov. Tim Walz to extend emergency powers necessary to manage the coronavirus, but Floyd's May 25 death after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for nearly eight minutes put the main focus on proposals to change policing in the state. But the two parties proved far apart on how wide-ranging those changes would be.

"We have gone through some of the most tumultuous times in Minnesota's history," Walz said Friday on public television's "Almanac," citing Floyd's death and the state's reopening from the coronavirus shutdown. "And I think there's a desire of folks here to seize that moment and make those systemic changes." 

The 22 House proposals were wrapped into three bills on the themes of "Reclaiming Community Oversight," "Reforming Accountability" and "Reimagining Public Safety." The package included several proposals that Republicans ruled out, including having the state attorney general prosecute all police-involved deaths and restoring voting rights for felons.

The Senate package consists of five modest proposals that partially overlapped with some House proposals, including banning the use of chokeholds and neck restraints, mandating a duty for officers to intervene and report when they witness another officer using excessive force, and providing help for officers recovering from traumatic events.

The two parties also remained divided on the main unfinished business of the 2020 regular session, a public construction borrowing package known as a bonding bill, which could have included money for rebuilding neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul where businesses were damaged and destroyed in the unrest that followed Floyd's killing. Other unresolved issues included a potential tax break that could have benefited businesses seeking to rebuild, and how to allocate federal coronavirus relief money to local governments from the $2.1 billion that the state received.

Lawmakers may return in mid-July. If Walz seeks to extend his emergency powers an additional 30 days, he's required to call another special session for July 12 to let lawmakers object. House Democrats blocked a Senate GOP attempt last week to remove the governor's emergency authority.