ST. PAUL — Minnesota Democrats on Thursday, April 29, again pressed Senate Republicans to take up police accountability and transparency measures, this time with a new ally in tow.
Gov. Tim Walz, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, and 10 state lawmakers — including one Republican — said budget conversations should prioritize proposals to make police bodycam footage more readily available to family members of those injured or killed by law enforcement, establish citizen oversight councils, set up an early warning system to pinpoint problem officers and start a study of police use of qualified immunity.
The officials have said the changes could promote equity in policing and to prevent the deaths of people of color and Indigenous Minnesotans at the hands of police. But so far, Republicans who control the Senate have yet to take up the bills and have said they will discuss them next week in a conference committee between the House and the Senate.
Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers and the governor for months have called on Republicans to take up the proposals during the legislative session. But this time they appeared with Rep. Tim Miller, a Prinsburg Republican and member of the five-person New House Republican Caucus, to take another tack at winning over GOP support.
Meanwhile, the larger House Republican Caucus and Senate Republicans said they wanted to bring more law enforcement voices to the table and raised frustrations about the issue taking on a partisan tone.
The Legislature's People of Color and Indigenous Caucus and community members have intensified their push since a Brooklyn Center police officer shot and killed Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, during a traffic stop on April 11. Days later, a Hennepin County jury convicted former officer Derek Chauvin of second-degree murder, third-degree murder and manslaughter in the killing of George Floyd.
"I think people can agree before we had a guilty verdict, we had a guilty system and it is time that the GOP Senate act on this reality," Rep. Cedrick Frazier, D-New Hope, said. "It's going to be up to the Senate how they choose to value Black lives. Will they continue ignoring, dismissing and discounting our claims, our struggles, our protests or will they find common ground?"
Frazier and other DFL elected officials credited Miller with bridging the partisan divide to urge changes to the state's policing laws. And they said they hoped others would join suit.
Miller said he was moved on the issue after hearing Valerie Castile speak about police accountability measures in relation to her faith. Castile's son Philando Castile was shot and killed by St. Anthony police during a traffic stop in 2016. And as he joins a conference committee on public safety and judiciary spending, Miller said, he hoped to "bring balance in our conversations and remind everyone in attendance to unite and work together for the common good for the people of this great state."
Walz, a first-term DFL governor, has said he would put up his political capital to pass the provisions. And on Thursday, he again called on Republicans to take up the proposals, noting that conversations about the legislation between top leaders had stalled following Chauvin's conviction.
"We were promised hearings and they didn't happen," Walz told reporters. "That's not politicizing, that is a factual part of the story."
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, at a Thursday news conference would not commit to what police reforms his caucus would support, saying that any reforms need to be negotiated between Democratic and Republican lawmakers during conference committee meetings. Those discussions were scheduled to start Monday, May 3.
Gazelka did draw a clear line, though, about provisions he'd oppose, including an elimination of qualified immunity for police officers or measures that would prevent prevent police officers from intervening. He also said his caucus would not revisit proposals that were debated last summer that didn't make it into law.
Gazelka continued to emphasize the reform package passed in 2020 and said that the state needed to wait to see how it plays out over time. Citing former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin's murder conviction, Gazelka said the system worked.
"It doesn’t feel as urgent as getting our budget done," he said.
With a little more than two weeks left in the legislative session, lawmakers are constitutionally required to write and pass a two-year state budget. If they can't reach an agreement on that by June 30, the state could face a government shutdown.