A visibly emotional group of Democratic state lawmakers demanded Tuesday that policing reform be a centerpiece of the special legislative session expected this month.
Speaking on the front lawn of the Hallie Q. Brown Community Center in St. Paul, House Democratic leadership and members from its People of Color and Indigenous Caucus outlined a sweeping package of nearly two dozen policy proposals that they argued now must be heard after last week’s death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.
The proposals mirror some of the recommendations outlined in a February report produced by a 16-member task force on deadly police encounters led by state Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington and Attorney General Keith Ellison, who has taken over the prosecution of Derek Chauvin, who faces murder charges in Floyd’s death.
“We are at a critical point,” said state Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights. “What’s happening in our cities right now is about … that legacy of pain, the legacy of murder, the legacy of lynching that continues today. It’s 2020: if you’re not going to listen to us today, you’re never going to listen to us.”
Gov. Tim Walz is expected to call lawmakers back to the State Capitol by June 12 for an extension of the state’s peacetime emergency, declared in March amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The passage of a major public works bonding bill was left undone in May and was expected to be a focal point of the session. But some DFL House and Senate leaders have since suggested that failure to advance policing reform would stall any other work.
State Rep. Carlos Mariani, a St. Paul Democrat who chairs the House’s public safety committee, said Tuesday that the governor told him he expected policing reform to be part of any upcoming special session.
“Quite frankly it’s a false proposition at this point in time to say that the Minnesota Legislature would convene and not address this issue,” Mariani said. “There are no other issues more important than the public safety and well-being of Minnesotans and our communities. So yes, this rises to … the highest level of responsibility for us in the coming session.”
DFL lawmakers are pushing for changes in the way officer-involved deaths are investigated. The lawmakers also want to give the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension more leeway to investigate police killings. Other proposals include citizen oversight councils for law enforcement, more oversight of the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) board’s officer licensure and training, lifting a state ban on local-residence requirements for police officers and ordering the POST board to develop a model policy on use of force in responding to peaceful protests.
“We’re talking about our lives; we’re talking about our existence,” said state Rep. Hodan Hassan, a Democrat from south Minneapolis, who later added: “Every single one of us should be on the right side of this fight. We should all be outraged, we should all be angry. We should demand the four officers to be behind bars. We should fight for justice. No justice, no peace.”