Gov. Tim Walz insisted Thursday that new police accountability measures must be part of the mix as the Legislature works to finalize a state budget and finish its session.
"The accountability we saw last week for George Floyd is the floor — not the ceiling — of what we need to do in Minnesota to advance police reform," Walz said Thursday in St. Paul, where he was joined by a dozen state lawmakers who want a new round of policing bills in response to the murder of Floyd and this month's police killing of Daunte Wright. "True justice comes through real, systemic change to prevent this from happening again."
Despite renewed urgency among advocates, Republicans who control the state Senate have given little indication they'll support significant changes to state policing laws. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said the guilty verdict against former Minneapolis officer Derek Chauvin for murdering Floyd reduced the urgency.
"Once that happened, the pressure here went down dramatically because people thought they got a fair judgment there," Gazelka said. He pointed to changes passed by the Legislature last year, which Walz and allies say didn't go far enough.
The standoff over policing threatens to destabilize high-stakes negotiations over the state budget, with less than three weeks to go until the Legislature must adjourn its regular session. Last week, Gazelka reversed an initial pledge to hold new statehouse hearings on law enforcement legislation, and he said Thursday that passing a new budget takes precedence.
Walz and Democratic lawmakers want to see new limits on when police can stop motorists, a bill to create citizen oversight of police, changes to no-knock warrants and banning police from affiliating with white supremacist groups.
They also want to require that police turn over body camera footage to families of people killed in deadly police encounters within 48 hours, among other proposals.
The DFL-controlled House passed the new police reforms as part of its public safety spending package last week. Gazelka has since said that a conference committee to reconcile the competing House and Senate public safety proposals would be the next forum to debate police accountability.
Gazelka left open the possibility of agreement, but he said Republicans would not accept a proposal to end qualified immunity for police, nor would they support measures that were previously considered but not passed last year.
The GOP also will not agree to "changes that prevent law enforcement from intervening," Gazelka said.
House Democrats are also advancing a late proposal to establish "sign and release" warrant procedures statewide that would curb the need for police to arrest people who have misdemeanor warrants for failing to appear in court for certain charges.
The public safety conference committee's first meeting is scheduled for Monday, two weeks before the Legislature's May 17 conclusion.
"Right now we have a window of time, while the world is watching, to be the leaders that our communities of color need us to be," said Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury.
Kent pointed to this week's passage of $7.8 million to cover security expenses related to Chauvin's trial as evidence of "how fast the Senate majority can act when they choose to."
Walz said Thursday that, after an initial conversation with Gazelka and House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park — where Gazelka's since-withdrawn plan to hold separate hearings was aired — there have been no further "meaningful" talks on police reform across the aisle.
Walz and a group of Democrats from the House and Senate were joined by state Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, who will participate in the public safety conference committee. Miller is a member of the New House GOP Caucus, an offshoot of the main House Republican Caucus, and said he would provide "balance" to the upcoming debate.
"Public safety is perhaps the most important role of government, and many people across the state have lost confidence in our system," Miller said.
In a statement earlier Thursday, Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge and the GOP lead in the House's public safety committee, dismissed many of the House DFL-crafted provisions as "partisan proposals that were crafted without input or support from law enforcement organizations" and Republicans.
Lobbying groups for Minnesota's police chiefs, sheriffs and rank-and-file officers also oppose the House's public safety bill. In a joint letter last week, they singled out proposals such as new body camera requirements and civilian review boards as bills that would "damage the credibility and integrity of the law enforcement investigative process and jeopardize public safety."
Lawmakers in support of the new bills argued that an initial sweeping package of policing laws — including bans on chokeholds and warrior-style training — that passed after Floyd's death last year were merely a first step.
State Rep. Carlos Mariani, the St. Paul Democrat who chairs the House public safety committee, described how an "early warning system" bill to flag officer misconduct was rejected by the Senate in 2019 before a similar measure passed in the months after Floyd was killed.
"The price for action was too high," Mariani said. "It mattered to George Floyd that the Senate chose not to act earlier than it could have. Let's not repeat that."
Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755