ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers in the wee hours Tuesday, July 21, approved some of the most extensive re-writes to the state's criminal justice laws in recent history eight weeks after George Floyd was killed at the hands of Minneapolis police.
The Minnesota House of Representatives by a 102-29 vote late Monday, July 20, and the Senate on a 60-7 vote early Tuesday, advanced a series of changes to the state's policing laws, including the creation of a new unit to investigate police deadly force incidents, banning police chokeholds and warrior training creating a new system of arbitration to weigh police deadly force encounters.
The approvals clear a path to Gov. Tim Walz's desk for his signature and Walz on Tuesday said he would sign the measures into law.
Lawmakers for weeks held secret meetings to strike a compromise on the proposal after the Legislature abruptly ended a special session last month without reaching deals on police accountability and other top policy priorities. And advocates, families affected by police violence, law enforcement groups, business leaders and others shared their stories in an effort to shape the plan.
The result yielded a package of police training, accountability, investigation and oversight measures that supporters said could prevent the deaths of Minnesotans of color at the hands of police. Advocates for broader changes, however, said the proposals didn't go far enough in stopping future police violence and providing a venue to hold accountable officers who act out.
Rep. Carlos Mariani, D-St. Paul, said that Monday night's policing bill — reached after weeks of closed-door negotiations between Democratic and Republican leadership — was "not the bill that (he) wanted." Several weeks ago, the Democratic-led House passed what Mariani called a "more robust" police accountability package, but legislators in the Republican-controlled Senate said it went too far.
So, after days of negotiations, the House rolled back their language, and the Senate expanded its plan to reach Monday's agreement.
Despite not going as far as he had hoped, Mariani said Monday's is "a good bill" that "creates a modern accountability framework of law that will help to end the type of police brutality that killed George Floyd in May."
On May 25, former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes as Floyd said he couldn't breathe and bystanders called for help. Bystander video of the incident sparked widespread protests and a national call for changes in the way states handle police officers who act out. Chauvin faces second-degree murder and manslaughter charges in Floyd's killing.
"What they’re asking for is actually pretty basic and that’s what this bill asks of our policing and of our citizenry in the state of Minnesota and that is: that we should be held accountable," Mariani said. "Everyone should be held accountable. Our police should certainly be held accountable."
On the other side of the political aisle, Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, said Monday night's final bill was "a lot better" than earlier versions. He said he still had some concerns, largely with one of the package's provisions for a new community relations advisory council.
The council, per the bill, is to consist of several leaders of Minnesota state law enforcement organizations, as well as community members, legislative appointees and advocates. Johnson said that makeup leaves out residents of Greater Minnesota.
Johnson said law enforcement officers have already clashed with similarly composed boards already in existence, and that he had a "feeling that his board is going to be the same way."
"They're going to have to do things the metro way," Johnson said, "which doesn’t work in Greater Minnesota. It doesn’t work at all."
Not far enough?
For some Democrats, the bill package simply did not go far enough. Sen. Jeff Hayden, D-Minneapolis, said the bill package was a step forward, but only a small step that doesn't come close to rectifying racism and police brutality in the state. He said he believed that had lawmakers held a more transparent process to form the omnibus, it would better represent what Minnesotans of color actually hope to see in police reform legislation.
"George Floyd was murdered eight blocks from where I live and it could have easily been me," Hayden said. "That has been the reality for too many Black people for too long — not just in Minnesota but across the entire nation."
Hayden ultimately voted in favor of the bill. Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, D-Minneapolis, however, was one of seven senators to vote no on the bill.
"I cannot go back to my community — to the activists that have worked with me, to the families, to the relatives, to the mothers of all the Black men who have died in the hands of the police — and tell them that this bill actually responds today to their calls for justice," she said. "Some members may vote for this because it’s all we could do right now. But this is not good enough."
Under the proposal, police use of chokeholds and warrior training would be banned and an advisory panel of stakeholders would be created to advise the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training.
The measure would boost training in dealing with people in a mental health crisis and with Minnesotans with autism and create within the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension a new unit charged with investigating instances of police deadly force, criminal sexual conduct and conflict of interest by peace officers.
The unit would make its findings public and available to be viewed. And the state would bring on six arbitrators selected and trained to review police deadly conduct incidents.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, in a news release late Monday night said the proposal “reflects agreement, compromise, and puts the safety and well-being of Minnesotans first."
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, R-Brooklyn Park, told reporters that the package was a good start, but lawmakers would continue working to pass criminal justice and police accountability measures. Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan in a news release echoed the sentiment and said they'd continue working with the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus on reforms.
"It’s not nearly enough," Hortman said, "but it is a considerable step forward."