ST. PAUL — After the sun set on Juneteenth — an annual celebration of the end of slavery in the United States — on Friday, June 19, Minnesota Senate Republicans handed Democrats their final offer on a slate of bills aimed at addressing racial equity in policing. But Democrats said their concessions were still too meager to rise to public demands following the death of George Floyd.
Around 8:30 p.m. on the night of their self-imposed deadline, Senate Republicans released a list of their concessions in police reform negotiations: The 11-point list agreed to some of the Democrats' proposals like the use of force incident arbitration reform, increased training for officers, a ban on chokeholds and more. But Republicans said they flat-out refused to consider restoring voting rights to felons, allowing for police departments to be defunded or disbanded and transferring jurisdiction for police-involved death prosecutions from county attorneys to the Attorney General's office — a move that the state County Attorneys Association has backed.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said at a Friday night news conference that Senate Republicans do believe reforms need to happen. But he said, "I don’t think it’s unreasonable to have some areas where we say some things we don’t want to do."
Gazelka called his caucus's concession on arbitration reform a "giant change" as compared to their previous stances on the issue. Earlier in the week, the Senate approved their own five bills on police reform, but Democrats said the package didn't cut it.
Members of the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus on Friday said the offer didn't go far enough to ensure police accountability and expressed frustration that they were consulted in the Republican proposal.
"Minor changes can't fix major problems," Sen. Jeff Hayden, D-Minneapolis, said. "What they gave us was unacceptable so if they decide to leave here without getting anything done, it's on their hands. The people of Minnesota will know it's on their hands."
Gazelka around 9 p.m. Friday said the Senate still intended to adjourn Friday night, though he said they'll stay late if they have to. Around midnight, legislative leaders emerged from negotiations on the policing bills and Democrats said they'd issued a counter-offer that included their full slate of police accountability bills minus a plan to give the attorney general authority to investigate deadly force encounters and a proposal to allow those felons who've served their jail time to vote.
"We ask the Minnesota Senate, do not go home without addressing this issue," Rep. Carlos Mariani, D-St. Paul, said. "We have a fair, good-faith offer before you, we will work all night long, all day tomorrow if it takes, whatever the time it takes."
Gazelka didn't call for adjournment and both chambers remained in wait into the early hours Saturday.
Earlier on Friday, the Minnesota House of Representatives advanced a number of bills aimed to address racial inequities in policing and the economy: one 19-bill omnibus reforming policing in the state, and another greenlighting state funds to help Twin Cities businesses damaged in protests and riots in the aftermath of Floyd's death.
Democrats urged Republicans to stay in St. Paul longer than Friday to continue negotiations and outside, hundreds gathered to pressure the GOP-led Senate to pass the bills.
Despite closed-door negotiating sessions between the governor and legislative leaders on Friday, other priorities like a bonding bill to fund public construction projects, a tax bill and COVID-19 aid for counties and cities also remained up in the air Friday night.
Walz on Friday evening said negotiations continued and policing law rewrites remained the biggest sticking point. He said he was prepared to stay overnight to continue discussions and noted he'd talked with Republican lawmakers about his executive authority under the peacetime emergency for COVID-19.
"I'm hopeful," Walz said. "I think we can get a big chunk of things done tonight."
The House bundled almost two dozen separate bills together into one and sent them over for Senate approval by a 71-59 vote early Friday. Outside the Capitol, hundreds gathered to urge the passage of the POCI Caucus bills and to commemorate Juneteenth as well as Floyd's killing. Organizers called for rapid action on the bills and said they would vote and run to unseat lawmakers that opposed the changes.
"The new protest is to march yourself to the polls and remove some of these W.O.R.M.S. from office. And when I say W.O.R.M.S. I'm referring to the white old Republican men in the Senate," John Thompson, a candidate for the Minnesota House, told demonstrators. "Legislation created all of these discrepancies that we see here today and it can fix them but they don't want to."
Lawmakers also advanced other measures Friday, though there were not clear agreements in the divided Capitol about how those would move forward.
On Friday afternoon, the House by a 74-53 vote passed Democrats’ PROMISE Act to use state dollars to help rebuild businesses and neighborhoods damaged in this summer’s riots. The bill prioritizes assistance for establishments owned by or serving Minnesotans of color. Senate leaders haven't said publicly whether they'll approve the nearly-$300 million package.
Rep. Mohamud Noor, D-Minneapolis, who championed the bill, told his colleagues that the act serves as an opportunity to rebuild communities and “work for a new economy that works for us all.” The PROMISE Act funds $167 million in direct assistance to small businesses, and another $125 million to individuals and businesses for uninsured property loss.
According to Noor, over 1,500 businesses in the Twin Cities were destroyed or damaged in the unrest following Floyd’s death. Noor said the state has a “duty to help rebuild the lives and livelihoods” impacted.
“Let’s rebuild, reinvest and reimagine our communities by making sure that we stand with them,” Noor said. “Our economy depends on it and yes, we can do it.”
Gazelka said he'd not yet reviewed the measure Friday night. Democrats in the Senate put forth companion bills.
Earlier on Friday morning, the House also approved a plan to allocate $841 million in federal CARES Act dollars to Minnesota cities and counties on a 77-55 vote. And Democrats at the last minute tacked on $30 million in additional local government grants, funding to boost payments to families on the Minnesota Family Investment Program and language increasing reimbursement rates for the Child Care Assistance Program and pay for personal care attendants.
Republicans said the additions were essentially a poison pill for the bill, which had been negotiated between legislative leaders. Democrats, meanwhile, said the additional funding to those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic was critical. And they urged senators to stay past Friday to strike a deal.
“This bill will allow these people to help make our communities thrive," Rep. Paul Marquart, D-Dilworth, said.
Gazelka and House GOP lawmakers said the addition was very problematic and could crater other negotiations at the Capitol.
“Today we’re rolling the dice. We have no idea if this money is going to make it into the hands of local government,” House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said. “Democrats, you have put $841 million of very needed money in danger.”
If lawmakers don't set out how the federal funds can be allocated as part of the special session, Walz could decide how to get them out to cities and counties on his own.