House, Senate remain at odds over public safety

An activist calls for calm as demonstrators face off with police.
An activist calls for calm as demonstrators face off with police outside the police station on Thursday in Brooklyn Center, Minn.
Scott Olson | Getty Images

A divide in Minnesota’s Legislature over a way forward on public safety sharpened Thursday after the Senate approved a budget plan without police law changes, and the House loaded up a competing bill with many revisions.

The distance between the chambers will have to close soon with a deadline to adjourn the session now a month out.

A wide-ranging public safety and judiciary funding bill cleared the Republican-controlled Senate on a 44-23 vote. Aside from providing money for the court system, prisons and other safety functions, the bill would make noteworthy changes to sexual assault laws.

But Republicans found themselves facing criticism from Democrats over the lack of measures to increase oversight of police as one former police officer stands trial in George Floyd’s death and another faces criminal charges in the Sunday shooting of Daunte Wright.

“We are at a moment of history. People are asking us to act,” said Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis. “There are many in our state who do not feel government is protecting them. They do not feel safe and secure. We need to act to make sure all people, including Black and brown people, feel safe and secure.”

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said hearings will be held on various measures before the end of session. Other Republicans sounded leery of the need for change beyond a newly enacted 2020 law that outlawed certain chokeholds, curbed warrior-style training, and created a duty for officers to step in if a fellow officer is mistreating people.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said he wants to avoid what he called an “overreaction” to “a couple bad incidents.”

“We have to move carefully from here on out because if we don’t, we’re not going to have anyone filing those squad cars, folks,” he said. “Now, that sounds pretty radical, but I think the lines that used to be endless who want to get into law enforcement are gone.”

Republicans who lead the chamber ruled the attempt to attach police proposals as outside the scope of the finance bill that was under consideration.

Sen. Omar Fateh, DFL-Minneapolis, pushed to revoke licenses of peace officers found to be affiliated with extremist or white supremacist groups.

“It will signal to Minnesotans that this Legislature is willing to do something, anything to rise to this moment today, four days outside of the killing of Daunte Wright,” he said.

Senate Public Safety Chair Warren Limmer of Maple Grove opposed consideration of the amendment but said that he doesn’t condone the associations it seeks to prevent.

“The policy of this state and the policy of this nation is to condemn such things,” he said before debate on the clause ended on a 36-31 vote.

Meanwhile, a public safety plan was pushed ahead in the DFL-led House after more policing changes were added. That includes new rules for police traffic stops.

Under the bill, police could no longer use expired tabs or a minor equipment issue, such as something hanging from the rearview mirror, as the primary reason for pulling someone over. 

Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, was among those who said too many Black drivers are being stopped.

“Some infringements of law do not rise to the level of having government literally stop you in your movement and intervene in your life to get you to be in compliance with some small law,” she said. “That’s what this is about.”

The broader bill, which also would put in place more protections for body camera footage and enable civilian oversight of police misconduct reviews, will face a floor vote next week.

The two public safety bills are more in harmony when it comes to shifts in sexual assault law.

Both chambers are working to close a loophole that makes it harder to get convictions in cases where the victim is under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

Another measure was added to the Senate bill during the floor debate that would eliminate the deadlines for people to report allegations of abuse to authorities. 

“The statute of limitations takes away an important choice for survivors — the choice to report what happened to them,” said Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul. “While the victim does not get to decide the outcome of their case, they do deserve a choice to make a report.”

The bill also ensures assault allegations within the Minnesota National Guard are investigated.

“Public safety is a balance of addressing crime and pursuing justice,” Limmer said. “I am proud this bill finds common ground to clear a path to justice for victims.” 

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