Senate Republicans advance limited police changes, reject DFL proposals in tense session

Anger bubbled over on the Minnesota Senate floor Tuesday as Republicans rejected a series of Democratic changes to increase accountability on police officers before passing their own more limited proposals.

The two sides have struggled to come together on a unified response to George Floyd's May 25 death in Minneapolis. Floyd died after a now-fired Minneapolis police officer held his knee into Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes, sparking an international outcry and calls for change.

Republicans who control the Senate voted Tuesday evening votes on their set of proposals, including a ban on chokeholds, extension of funding for existing police training, requiring law enforcement agencies to report deadly use of force to the state, and boosting emotional support for cops after a critical incident. Earlier in the day, they rejected several DFL-backed amendments to increase accountability on officers in tense party-line votes.

"If that’s going to be the reform that’s going to bring justice to the killing of George Floyd, I’m sorry," said state Sen. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina. "You can go to bed in peace but I will not."

Some of the GOP's proposals are not controversial and mirror what Democrats have proposed.

But DFL lawmakers  say the state must go much further. They have proposed giving the attorney general power over all police killing investigations, allowing cities to impose residency requirements on officers, and giving the state's police licensing board more power to strip licenses from problem officers.

Republicans argued throughout the day Tuesday that their proposals are a first step.

"Is our work done? No. Should we forget about the horrific things that happened to George Floyd? No," said state Sen. Jerry Relph, R-St. Cloud.

The process is playing out at lightning speed in a special session. Republicans brought their proposals to the Senate floor without votes in committee and after a Tuesday morning informational hearing in which members of the public got three minutes apiece to testify.

Democrats who control the House have advanced their larger bills through three committees and are planning to hold floor votes by Friday. Senate Republicans are vowing to adjourn by Friday and leave the Capitol.

"Sooner or later, you have to set a deadline, and the deadline we’ve put is Friday," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka told reporters at a news conference.

Walz responded to the GOP's pledge to leave by threatening to call them back into special session to deal with unresolved issues, though he said it's too early to discuss "what-ifs" with lawmakers' schedule.

"If this is going to be one of those deals that, "We’re going to put five easy (bills) out there, vote for it and go home, see you later,' I think they’re really misreading where the public is at on this," Walz told reporters about the Senate's plan.

Law enforcement groups -- including the statewide police union, sheriffs' association and police chiefs' association -- support the Senate bills. But three of Gov. Tim Walz's commissioners, including the top public safety official in the state, testified that they did not go far enough.

Community groups said training and policies were not preventing police killings in Minnesota, and the state instead needs more accountability measures.

“This is not about questioning people’s intentions. This is about, maybe we are not listening. The trainings are not working," said Brian Fullman, an organizer with the advocacy group ISAIAH.