Minnesota lawmakers reach deal on police accountability measures

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 plans to sign the measure on Thursday, a spokesman said.

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.

Lawmakers had 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.

Tuesday, the debate raged on between supporters of the legislation and those who say it doesn't go far enough to overhaul law enforcement tactics in Minnesota. 

Gov. Tim Walz said the first text message he got overnight was from family members of someone who'd been killed by a police officer. They expressed "deep disappointment," Walz said.

"What I would respond to people is, no piece of legislation is perfect," Walz told reporters. "I wouldn’t view any as the end. As our society changed, and as this issue became apparent, we were able to move." 

Top lawmakers praised the bill that they negotiated.

"It is vitally important for the world to see us pass this legislation," said House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley. "But of course it’s more important to protect the lives of people in our state."

But some Democrats said the agreement did not include enough input from lawmakers of color.

"Instead we got a closed-door deal in the middle of the night with no public input,” said state Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis.

Lawmakers had 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.

Meanwhile, some Republicans said the provisions went too far. One said there's no guarantee that the new public members of the state licensing board would come from rural Minnesota. But Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said he viewed the bill as a positive.

"Fifteen provisions are in this bill. Fifteen," said Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake. "In a special session, 15 provisions is amazing."

Other key pieces of legislation failed to cross the finish line.

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

Tuesday, construction trades members criticized the failure and said during the deep U.S. economic recession, the bonding bill would've created jobs.

"They knew. It wasn’t like they didn’t know that not doing this was going to cause damage. They knew. And they didn’t do it anyway," said Jason George of Operating Engineers Local 49.

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

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.