Moment of truth: Public safety bills head to floors
DFLers insist on adding amendments; Senate GOP insists they won't be accepted
The toughest public safety negotiations in memory—so we are told; the public didn’t witness them—come to a head today. Both the House and Senate chambers plan Tuesday to take up the $2.64 billion cops, courts and corrections finance bill.
Not that money is so much at issue.
The burning question is whether a slim list of police accountability reforms agreed to over the weekend will be expanded. The People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) Caucus in the DFL House insists it must. Senate Republicans insist it won’t.
Gov. Tim Walz is hoping that Democrats will accept the existing agreement, keep the government functioning, and fight on at another time.
To grease the skids, the governor on Monday issued several police-accountability executive orders. One uses $15 million in federal COVID-19 relief to finance community-based violence-prevention grants. Another requires state-run law enforcement agencies—like the State Patrol, BCA and DNR—to turn over to families any deadly force body-cam footage taken by their officers within five days. A third proposal is discussed later in this story.
But House DFLers, stinging after watching more than 100 policing reforms dwindle to just a handful, will introduce several major amendments on the floor today—potentially upsetting a hard-won agreement that conferees managed to strike only after the governor, House speaker and Senate majority leader intervened.
That could send the bill ping-ponging between chambers and conference committee hearings. Yet there is little time for that. If any portions of the state’s $52 billion, two-year budget don’t pass before July 1, those parts of government shut down.
As of this morning, finance bills for public safety, jobs, education and state government operations remain to be approved. A taxes bill is also up in the air. The Senate planned to take up the jobs bill later this morning. It will debate public safety later today, after the House passes the bill.
It is a precarious moment. With less than two legislative days remaining before the sands run out, shutdown remains a stark possibility for the Department of Corrections, the Judicial Branch, the Department of Public Safety, the Department of Human Rights, the legislature, the governor’s office, the Attorney General, the Secretary of State and the departments of Revenue, Administration and Minnesota Management and Budget. Among others.
But today figures to be dominated by the public safety/judiciary budget. The House was scheduled to take it up at 10 a.m. And, to put it mildly, things there are complicated.
On Monday, POCI Caucus members gathered with reporters in the Capitol Rotunda to air their grievances over the weekend public safety agreement and to declare that work on that legislation is far from finished.
“Senate Republicans are at a standstill,” said Rep. Samantha Vang, DFL-Brooklyn Center, the caucus’ chair. “As we work for public safety that places respect and preservation of human life and dignity at the forefront, we have been met with strong opposition from do-nothing Senate Republicans who want nothing but the status quo.”
Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, the House Public Safety chair who was at center stage during bill negotiations, expressed deep dismay with the way talks went. He said at a certain point, Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Chair Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, simply refused to negotiate.
“Totally unacceptable,” an uncharacteristically grim Mariani told reporters. “We never adopted that posture.”
Among the highest-priority police reforms that DFLers pitched this year, Mariani said, only one—limits on no-knock warrants—ultimately was accepted. “That is not nearly good enough,” he said. “It’s time for the Senate majority to get serious.”
Rep. John Thompson, DFL-St. Paul, is the original author of an amendment that DFLers will introduce today. It requires all law enforcement departments—not just state-run agencies—to show families body-cam footage within 48 hours of a deadly force encounter.
Thompson said necessary reforms are being blocked “by members who do not represent the areas that are impacted by poor policing.” To Senate Republicans, he said, the status quo as the safe position to take. He disagrees.
“The status quo is more dangerous than any protester on this doggone earth,” he said.
“Stop playing politics with our lives,” Thompson said. “Don’t wait until I’m shot in the head. Don’t wait for somebody to blow my brains out and Martin Luther King me and family.”
Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, the House Judiciary chair, said members would also introduce an amendment to limit “pre-textual stops”—traffic stops for things like expired license plate tabs that, in Daunte Wright’s case, escalated to deadly violence.
DFLers also will introduce a measure extending to six years the statute of limitations on wrongful death suits against police. Advocates have complained that slow-walked internal investigations sometimes limit discovery until it’s too late, blocking suits.
“Our constituents are ready for these reforms, even if the Senate is not,” Becker-Finn said. “That’s why we will continue to fight for these reforms until they do become law.”
Republicans in the House have their slate of pro-law-enforcement amendments, which they also plan to offer today. It could be a long day on the House floor.
‘Running out of daylight’
The House passed its public safety bill from Rules and Administration to the floor early Sunday. The Senate did the same yesterday, shipping its own amended version from the Senate Finance Committee to the Senate floor.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, told fellow senators Monday that his chamber would take up the jobs bill early today. It will hear the public safety bill later Tuesday, after the House passes it.
Speaking to reporters with Limmer at his side Monday, Gazelka warned that the Senate GOP majority will not accept DFL amendments if they are passed over to his chamber.
“We would take them off in the Senate, for sure,” Gazelka said. “It was hard enough to get to this agreement. We're right up to the edge, so I'm hoping that that doesn't happen.”
If it does, it would likely trigger conference committee action to reconcile, over the course of a day or so, disagreements that have taken six months to overcome. “We really are running out of daylight,” Gazelka said.
He denied DFL accusations that the Senate stopped negotiating before the governor, majority leader and speaker stepped in to shepherd the agreement. But he emphasized that those negotiations are now closed.
“In the end you have to say, look, it's over,” Gazelka said. “We’ve got to wrap this up.”
Reporters asked Limmer to comment on DFL complaints that his committee refused to hear any police-reform bills during the regular session.
“That's because, traditionally, we look at budget years as exactly that,” Limmer said. “Budget bills should be in budget years and the policies are usually reserved for later, in the second year [of the biennium].”
But he made clear his skepticism about at least one of key DFL proposal—limits on pre-textual stops—whether it’s brought forward now or in the future. Since 2018, he said, the State Patrol has reported seizing 900 illegal weapons during such stops. “They do become a valuable instrument for law enforcement,” he said.
Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, an attorney, expressed exasperation when similar ideas were expressed during Monday’s Senate Finance hearing. He said that as a Black man, he has been stopped pre-textually by police in municipalities across the state, repeatedly, whether dressed in casual clothes or a suit and tie.
Champion accused Republicans of “pretending” to know that “pre-textual” stops are more or less illusory and that all traffic stops are rooted in probable cause. “You’re not Black,” Champion said. “You should at least ask a Black person.”
During his Monday press conference, Gazelka said House Democrats were not alone in sacrificing public-safety bill priorities. The Senate GOP thought there should be a deadline extension for law enforcement to comply with the use-of-deadly-force training regulations passed in 2020. That didn’t happen, he said.
Neither did tougher regulations on charitable organizations that post bail for people regardless of the crime charged. “We thought we should correct that and make that better,” Gazelka said.
Senators also wanted to end the practice of doxxing police officers and their families by prohibiting people from posting their contact information on social media, he said. “We didn’t get that.”
And Republicans failed to change weight thresholds for the deadly synthetic opiate fentanyl, so criminal penalties for possession of that drug would be in line with heroin possession.
“None of those happened,” Gazelka said. “But that's the nature of divided government. The Democrats of the House wanted to go one direction. We want to go the other.”
Walz: ‘It isn’t enough’
Walz held his own press conference Monday, laying out three police-accountability executive orders affecting the agencies and money under his control.
In addition to the two already mentioned, the governor said he will increase the transparency and accountability of the politically appointed Peace Officer Standards and Training Board. That group oversees police licensing and develops model conduct and discipline policies for departments to follow.
Walz’s POST Board order involves “a data and process review,” which would identify what kinds of public law enforcement data the board collects and post it to an online dashboard. He said he also is ordering the POST Board to place community at the center of its planned overhaul of rules related to complaint investigations and compliance.
But he also urged Democrats to vote for the public safety bill, as is, if Republicans strip out today’s amendments. The consequences of failing to pass a bill before July 1 are too dire, the governor said.
He effectively agreed with Gazelka: It’s over.
“There's a point where when the Senate tells me no enough times, I believe them,” the governor said.
He added that the POCI caucus is right as well—what is in the agreed-upon bill is not enough and more work must be done, he said. “But just because I say it isn't enough,” Walz said, “is probably not going to change the minds of Senate Republicans.”