Minnesota Senate debates police accountability proposals

The Republican-controlled Minnesota Senate on Tuesday debated a package of police accountability measures drawn up following the death of George Floyd but, with a more extensive set of bills advancing in the Democrat-dominated House, critics said the Senate proposals don’t go far enough.

The full House is expected to vote this week on a package developed by the bicameral People of Color and Indigenous Caucus that has some elements in common with the Senate plan.

But the House slate also includes proposals that Republicans have ruled out, including having the state attorney general prosecute all police-involved deaths. Democratic Attorney General Keith Ellison is already prosecuting the four former Minneapolis police officers charged in Floyd’s May 25 death. GOP leaders oppose giving more power to Ellison, a fiery progressive and longtime police critic.

Earlier Tuesday, President Donald Trump signed an executive order to encourage better police practices and establish a database to keep track of officers with a history of excessive use-of-force complaints. Mirroring the partisan divide in the Minnesota Legislature, the GOP-led U.S. Senate and Democratic-controlled House are working on competing policing reform packages.

Trump signs executive order on police reform

It remains to be seen whether the Minnesota chambers will agree on any changes during the special session. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, of East Gull Lake, reiterated that he intends to adjourn Friday, regardless of what the House does.

The main thrust of the Senate plan is to ban the use of chokeholds and neck restraints in all but the most dire situations, and add a duty to intervene and report when one officer sees another officer using excessive force. The rewrite of a statewide model policy would stress the importance of the sanctity of life. Law enforcement agencies would be obligated to update their use-of-force policies accordingly.

Minnesota Senate to discuss policing overhaul plans

The Senate package would also preserve a $9 million annual funding stream that supports diversity training for officers, which is due to revert to $3 million after next year. It would require that any use of force resulting in death or great bodily harm be reported to the state — something most Minnesota law enforcement agencies already do. Confidentiality would be protected for officers and other first responders who get peer support after critical incidents. Background checks, currently required during officer hiring, would be extended to other police employees.

“These are important first steps. This is laying foundation stones for more subjects to be addressed in the future,” Senate Judiciary Chairman Warren Limmer, of Maple Grove, said at a news conference ahead of the Senate’s floor debate.

None of the GOP proposals has attracted significant opposition, and they have the support of law enforcement groups. But state Human Rights Commissioner Rebecca Lucero and several others who testified at a hearing Tuesday said the Senate is wasting an opportunity to make bold change.

State Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell said the Legislature needs to ensure that law enforcement serves black, brown and indigenous communities fairly and equitably.

“While the policy proposals before you today address some of those concerns, I don’t believe they go far enough,” Schnell said.