ST. PAUL — Lawmakers in the Minnesota Legislature late Monday, July 20, planned to vote on a slate of police accountability measures but said other priority legislation wouldn't make it across the finish line in the latest special legislative session.
As the clock ticked down on the session, leaders in the divided Statehouse said they remained hopeful that tentative agreements around police reform would pass Monday night, but a key Republican leader said a local jobs and projects bill — commonly called the bonding bill — would fail after secret negotiations ended without compromise and lawmakers added "poison pills" into the proposal.
Lawmakers were again called to the Capitol last week to consider a veto to a 30-day extension of the state's peacetime emergency to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. And after opting not to do that, they took up a trio of other proposals: policing law re-writes stemming from the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police, a bonding and tax bill and a supplemental spending bill.
House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley, said the proposals were "very close" to being finalized Monday morning and representatives said they would begin debate on a policing bill Monday night at 10:45 p.m.
The push to address police accountability and criminal justice reform comes after former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on Floyd's neck for more than eight minutes on May 25 as Floyd said he couldn't breathe and bystanders called for help. Bystander video of the incident sparked 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.
Legislative leaders as part of the compromise bill brought forth a ban on police use of chokeholds and warrior training and they planned to bring legislation setting up an advisory panel of stakeholders to advise the Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training.
The measure would require additional training in dealing with people in 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 will 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.
“The No. 1 thing (Minnesotans) want us to get done right now is something with reform toward police accountability, so I believe that will happen today,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, told reporters. “That, I think will be the story today.”
Other legislation appeared less likely to come together Monday night as the COVID-19 pandemic and partisan gridlock in the Capitol again derailed conversations about compromise. Republicans in the Minnesota House of Representatives said they would block a $1.35 billion bonding bill tied to a tax proposal there. Leaders said they wanted to first approve a proposal limiting the governor's authority to bring executive orders to combat COVID-19 and put more of the lawmaking power in legislators' hands.
“I think we’ve gone backward from where we were two-three weeks ago. Because of that, I think that gives us very little chance to get things passed," House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, told reporters Monday morning. “There are things in that bill that we would consider poison pills."
After days of closed-door meetings, disagreements surfaced as the policy proposals made their way to the light of day on Monday. Legislative leaders and the governor's office met to hash out plans that could appeal to the Republican-led Senate, DFL-controlled House and gain the governor's signature, but minority leaders said they weren't adequately consulted about the bonding bill and proposals tied to it.
Minority caucuses in each chamber hold a unique position in conversations about a bonding bill as their votes are needed to let the state borrow to fund public projects. And Daudt said the House bonding proposal contained spending that they wouldn't be willing to support.
While interest groups, lobbyists and constituents would typically fill the Capitol to help push priority legislation to passage, the building sat nearly empty Monday after concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic and threat to the building following civil unrest following Floyd's death.
And as local leaders, advocates and others called lawmakers or pressed them via social media to pass legislation they cared about, it wasn't clear the comments forced the same urgency to act.
"They just can’t get it done and, meanwhile, all of these meritorious projects are languishing and these communities aren’t sure if they’re going to have resources to continue," Bradley Peterson, executive director of the Minnesota Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, said, of the stalled local jobs and projects bill. "It’s time to just get it done."