ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Senate late Tuesday, June 16, and into the early hours of Wednesday narrowly approved a handful of measures aimed at increasing police accountability, despite repeated calls from lawmakers of color in the chamber to do more.
Senators for hours debated amendments to the proposal that would ban chokeholds unless in situations where an officer is isolated, has lost a weapon or faces a life or death situation, boost mental health and de-escalation training and set up mechanisms for reporting instances of deadly force. The plans also prioritize the sanctity of life in police model policies and require officers to step in if they see peers using excessive force.
Democratic-Farmer-Labor senators said the proposals didn't have adequate accountability for officers and their training wasn't sufficiently focused on dealing with those with mental illness or autism. Republicans, meanwhile, said advancing the bills was a first step in addressing the public pressure for criminal justice reform following George Floyd's killing at the hands of Minneapolis police.
The move to advance the bills could tee them up for approval in the DFL-controlled Minnesota House of Representatives, but leaders there said they didn't feel the Senate plans would adequately address issues of inequity in policing. And they continued pushing 22 proposals of their own closer to a House floor vote. Without a compromise, it wasn't clear legislation could make it through the divided Capitol before Friday.
The push to change policing laws and pass police accountability measures comes weeks after a videotape was released showing former police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on Floyd's neck for several minutes as he asked for help. The department didn't immediately mention the use of force in a report announcing Floyd's death.
Since the Memorial Day death, protests have taken place across the state and around the world. And calls for policing law reforms have grown in volume at the Capitol.
Members of the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus (POCI) on Tuesday night urged their peers to bring amendments to the proposals that would ban warrior training, increase training in dealing with those with mental illness, increase community involvement in policing and freeing up more power at the state level to discipline officers who initiate deadly force encounters. They noted that they'd pushed similar measures for years and were frustrated that GOP lawmakers didn't consult them about the proposals.
“Why don’t you try looking at this issue through my eyes? My life is in danger every time I leave this place," Sen. Jeff Hayden, D-Minneapolis, said late Tuesday. "Those very officers that you're saying uphold the law broke the law. They sat on a man's neck for 8 minutes and 43 seconds."
Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, said they felt the measures were a good first start and said they'd pulled ideas from the House POCI Caucus. They also blamed Minneapolis officials for not taking steps sooner to rewrite labor agreements with the police union there that could've allowed for harsher penalties involved in deadly force encounters.
“We’re trying to come forward with a sincere bill to recognize at least some of the issues that we saw coming out of the House POCI, I didn’t even know there was a Senate POCI. I didn’t get the memo,” Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said.
Limmer chairs the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee and he said the tone of the debate around the bills was among the least respectful he'd experienced.
“In light of a man who suffered a terrible death, I would’ve thought there would be a little more respect for him, if not for the creation of good law," he said.
House lawmakers on Wednesday took up several of their proposals in a pair of committee hearings.