ST. PAUL -- Minnesota’s top Democratic and Republican lawmakers late Saturday night reached agreement on the highlights of a public safety bill that drew attention for its potential changes to policing laws in the aftermath of high-profile police killings of unarmed Black men.
While some details had yet to be finalized, statements from leaders of both parties indicated the lion’s share of months of negotiations were over. As was to be expected under Minnesota’s divided Legislature, both sides appeared to have been forced to compromise.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said the agreement “includes reforms to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system. It doesn’t include some of the important police reform and accountability measures pushed by the House, but it is a step forward in delivering true public safety and justice for all Minnesotans despite divided government.”
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, issued the following statement late Saturday: “Earlier today we began closing the public safety bill after reaching general, bipartisan agreement. Some small issues are still being worked out, but I am confident we will finish the bill and keep Minnesotans safe.”
Hortman provided a list of changes included in the bill, which had not been made public as of 10:45 p.m. In her words:
- Regulating the use of no-knock warrants
- Civil asset forfeiture reforms
- Grant funding for community violence prevention, survivor support, and sex trafficking prevention and response
- Fines and fees reform
- Modifications to the POST (Police Officers Standards and Training) Board police misconduct database to create an early warning system to keep bad officers off the streets
- Creating an Office of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women
- Creating a Task Force for Missing and Murdered African-American Women
- Funding increases for public defenders and legal aid
- Criminal sexual conduct reform
- Hardel Sherrell Act – robust jail safety reform
- Youth Justice Office
- Significant investments in cyber security and crime lab capacity
- Travis’ Law – Requires 911 operators to refer calls involving mental health crisis to mental health crisis teams when appropriate
- Matthew’s Law – model policy addressing the use of confidential informants
Led by a galvanized caucus of lawmakers of color, lawmakers from the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party — which controls the House — had pressed hard for scores of changes, including increasing civilian oversight of police, ending a type of immunity for peace officers, essentially outlawing white supremacist beliefs within the ranks of law enforcement, and ending the practice of armed cops making traffic stops. None of those ideas appear to have made it into the final agreement.
The murder of George Floyd and death of Daunte Wright energized Democrats and parts of their base.
Republicans, who control the Senate, resisted many of the Democrats’ proposals, calling some “anti-police.” Republicans have tended to focus on far-left elements who have called for “abolishing” police, as well as widespread lawlessness that overshadowed protests following Floyd’s killing and, to a lesser extent, the killing of Wright and other Black men.
In short, the near-universal repulsion at the image of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd’s neck as he lost consciousness evolved into a hotly partisan taking of sides.
The stalemate has pushed the Minnesota Legislature to the brink as a June 30 deadline looms. If the larger public safety bill that encompasses the potential changes to policing laws is not passed in time, key government functions, including state prisons and law enforcement agencies like the State Patrol, would theoretically have to be shuttered. However, Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, has stated he will keep such essential services open and those workers paid, even if the legality of doing so is in question.
Saturday night’s development appeared to set a course that will beat the deadline.