MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Gov. Tim Walz and Democratic legislative leaders on Thursday proposed a series of statewide police reforms in response to the killing in Minneapolis of George Floyd and the social justice movement that has been inflamed by his death.
Police in Minnesota would be banned from using chokeholds, officers would be required to intervene when a colleague uses excessive force and the arbitration process for police who contest their firings would be revamped under the proposals unveiled by Walz and members of the bicameral People of Color and Indigenous Caucus at a news conference ahead of a special session Friday.
Protesters have demanded change since the May 25 death of Floyd, who was black. Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer, has been charged with murder in the killing. Advocates for social justice say police brutality and discrimination against minorities is a blight on law enforcement nationwide.
“We cannot ignore the voices around the state, the country and the world calling for change and protection of black lives,” said Sen. Jeff Hayden an African American from Minneapolis who represents the neighborhood where police took Floyd down. “Now is the time to lead by example and to act to advance actual change. No more stalling, no more waiting.”
The special session was already in the works before protests erupted in Minneapolis and spread around the world. Walz called it so he could extend the emergency powers that he’s been using to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
But Democrats seized the moment to expand the focus beyond COVID-19 to include dismantling racial inequities, including in law enforcement. Democratic lawmakers and governors in other states, including Wisconsin, New Jersey, Arizona and Oregon, hope to do the same thing.
The proposals announced Thursday include some points from a new court-approved agreement between the City of Minneapolis and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, including the proposed chokehold ban and duty to intercede. Some have roots in a task force led by Democratic Attorney General Keith Ellison and Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington. The task force proposed steps to reduce police-involved deadly force encounters, including a bill for a uniform standard for when such actions are justified and a measure to encourage development of new models for policing.
Another bill, backed by prosecutors across the state, would put the attorney general in charge of prosecuting officer-involved deaths, instead of county attorneys, a responsibility that Ellison already has taken on in the Floyd case.
Another bill in the package would restore the voting rights of more than 50,000 felons who are out of prison, changing a law that Democratic Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, a Native American from Roseville, said disproportionately disenfranchises people of color.
A House committee has scheduled an eight-hour hearing on the slate for Saturday. Its chairman, Democratic Rep. Carlos Mariani, a Latino from St. Paul, said the hearing won’t be the last word on the subject.
While the Democratic-controlled House is expected to approve all or most of the proposals, it remains unclear whether any can emerge from the Republican-controlled Senate during the special session. No end date has been set.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, of East Gull Lake, said last week that he was searching his soul over how government should respond to Floyd’s death. But he also faulted Walz and local leaders for being “unwilling to stop the lawlessness” that followed. He said the top GOP priorities for the special session would be rescinding the governor’s emergency powers and reopening the state.
Gazelka and other Senate GOP leaders are expected to react to the Democratic proposals at a Friday news conference.
Hayden urged the Republicans to take the Democrats’ proposals seriously.
“We’re asking Senator Gazelka to join us in a true partnership to lead the nation by passing transformative criminal justice legislation, and support our efforts to redistribute funding and resources to black and brown communities that have been failed by the criminal justice system,” he said.