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With 2 days to go, Minnesota lawmakers spar over police accountability reforms

Lawmakers of color on Monday said the public safety package negotiated between top legislative leaders does not go far enough to address disproportionate rates of police violence toward Minnesotans of color.

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State Rep. John Thompson, D-St. Paul, speaks to reporters along with the Minnesota Legislature's People of Color and Indigenous Caucus in the Capitol Rotunda on Monday, June 28, 2021. Sarah Mearhof / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL — Tensions rose in Minnesota’s state Capitol on Monday, June 28 as members of the People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) Caucus chastised Senate Republicans for what they say is an inadequate public safety and judiciary budget plan for the state.

There are just two more days for the Legislature to wrap up state budget negotiations before their June 30 deadline, and leaders have said for weeks that the state’s public safety and judiciary budget has been the most difficult to reconcile between Democratic and Republican disagreements.

Leaders released the negotiated package late Saturday, and while the budget does include a slate of law enforcement reforms, the POCI caucus says it doesn’t go far enough. In a Monday statement, the caucus said since George Floyd’s death last summer, “people from all backgrounds took to the streets demanding change.”

“Unfortunately the changes sought by so many, that would help diminish the killing of BIPOC people at the hands of the police, did not emerge (in the budget),” the lawmakers wrote. “The bill as posted does not include the significant changes to hold police accountable or to prevent future harm.”

Minn. House and Senate overcome public safety budget impasse — for the most part House and Senate leaders say there are "some minor issues" remaining between Democrats and Republicans, but they're confident the budget will be complete before lawmakers' June 30 deadline.
Lawmakers, advocates push for permanent office to investigate missing, murdered Indigenous women cases in Minnesota A state report released this year confirmed that nationwide trends of disproportionate rates of violence against Native people are consistent in Minnesota. While Native women and girls comprise roughly 1% of Minnesota's population, 8% of murdered women and girls in Minnesota between 2010 and 2018 were Native American.
Members of the POCI Caucus said at Monday’s news conference that when the omnibus comes to the House floor for debate on Tuesday, they will introduce a series of amendments that they say will help better protect people of color in Minnesota -- policies like banning traffic stops for minor vehicle infractions, or increasing the statute of limitations for wrongful death lawsuits against police.

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Later on Monday, though, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, told reporters it’s unlikely any of those amendments would make it past the Senate Republican majority. The bill as it stands is what was agreed to in closed-door negotiations between Gazelka, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park and Democratic Gov. Tim Walz.

“My guess is that those (amendments) come off, we would take them off,” Gazelka said. “It was hard enough to get to this agreement…. We really are running out of daylight.”

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Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, and Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, speak to reporters in the Minnesota Capitol on Monday, June 28, 2021. Sarah Mearhoff / Forum News Service

Also on Monday, Walz flexed his executive branch muscle and released a number of executive orders on policing in the state. His orders would invest $15 million from Minnesota’s federal American Rescue Plan flexible funds into community safety and survivor support grants, as well as establish a public dashboard for police complaints. He also ordered that body cam footage from deadly encounters with law enforcement be released to family members within five days, but that order can only apply to state law enforcement, not local.

The POCI Caucus encouraged Walz to exert executive authority on police reform if the Legislature fails, but Rep. Carlos Mariani, D-St. Paul, said, “We’re lawmakers. We prefer to do this with legislation.”

“That’s what the people deserve,” he said. “But you know what people also deserve, in the end? They desire to be safe. If it’s going to take executive branch action to do that, then so be it.”

These are some of the public safety policy reforms the current bill does include:

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  • Salary raises for state law enforcement
  • Regulations for law enforcement’s use of no-knock warrants
  • Modifications to the state’s police misconduct database
  • Establishing model policy for investigators’ use of confidential informants
  • Cybersecurity and crime lab investments
  • Increased funding for public defenders and legal aid
  • Civil asset forfeiture reforms
  • Fines and fees reforms
  • Jail safety reforms
  • Reforms to close a heavily publicized “voluntary intoxication” loophole in Minnesota’s sexual assault statutes
  • Funding to establish an office to investigate Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women , as well as a task force to study Missing and Murdered African Women
  • A new Youth Justice Office
  • Millions in community grants to prevent violence and sex trafficking, and to support survivors of crimes
  • A law requiring 911 operators to refer mental health emergency calls to trained crisis teams
Mearhoff is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. You can reach her at smearhoff@forumcomm.com or 651-290-0707.
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