Debate over police accountability in Minnesota Senate off to rough start

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The Minnesota Senate plans to consider about a half dozen bills aimed at police accountability and public safety in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

The chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee says there are limits to what the legislature can do in a special session.

"Both chambers and both political parties have written bills trying to prevent that type of event from ever happening again," Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said at the beginning of a floor debate Tuesday afternoon. " I wish I could say it wouldn’t happen again. I don’t believe simply writing a bill stops all bad events in our lives."

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But Senate Democrats pushed back. They say many of the bills the Senate is considering are vague and unlikely to result in any meaningful change to prevent another death like George Floyd’s.

"One of them is three sentences, one of them is four sentences, one of them is two paragraphs," said Sen. Melissa Franzen, DFL-Edina. "Another one is just one section. If that’s going to be the reform that’s going to bring justice to the killing of George Floyd, I’m sorry you can go to bed in peace, I will not. This is a travesty of this procedure of what we’re doing here today in special session."

Some Republicans have suggested police around the state are being punished for the acts of Minneapolis Police officers.

Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, cast doubt on that notion.

"Too often we have people who say ‘Oh, it’s a Minneapolis problem,’" Champion said. "I don’t have that problem up in my area. But the only people they talk to are people who look like them."

Other bills the Senate will consider Tuesday night include monthly reporting on use of force that results in great bodily harm or death, stronger background checks for law enforcement personnel and a bill offering mental health support for police officers. Another bill that would ban chokeholds and other neck restraints will likely be considered later in the week.

The Democrat-controlled House has a much broader package of about 20 bills on police accountability they will consider on the floor later this week.