Minnesota is at the midpoint of what may be a one-week legislative special session if the Republican-controlled Senate has its way. It is time to consider whether enough work can be done in the remaining days to be considered successful, or to acknowledge that 201 adults with competing views and equal standing may need more time to accomplish anything meaningful.
This special session, unlike most, started with Gov. Tim Walz calling lawmakers back to St. Paul without the usual carefully negotiated set of agenda points and an agreed-upon end date. By Minnesota law, only the governor can declare a special session, but only the Legislature can end it. In this case, one half of that equation, the Senate, filled in the missing date, declaring that all work would be done within a week.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, in talking with an editorial writer, said that much of the work before them had been heard in regular session, such as bonding, but failed to make it over the finish line. Police reform had resurfaced after George Floyd’s death in police custody, but Gazelka said Senate Republicans had adopted some proposals from the People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) Caucus, such as a ban on chokeholds and neck restraints, along with additional training and a requirement that use-of-force reports be filed to the state.
Walz, on the other hand, saw the aftermath of Floyd’s death as a time to think bigger on police reform, to address long-festering inequities not just in criminal justice, but also in education, the economy and other aspects of society.
One vision leaves too little time to meet the demands of the moment. Underrepresented communities must be given a chance to be truly heard, to be part of forming the solution. The other vision is so vast that it must be given dimension and deadlines if it is to have any chance of being realized. Walz acknowledged as much on Wednesday, saying that “a deadline is not a bad thing.”
There is obvious common ground here, and much of it has taken shape just recently. Both sides now are on record in favor of greater police accountability and some specifics. Though a gulf separates them on the amounts, both sides want a bonding bill. That is needed now more than ever given a pandemic-induced recession. It is too important an issue to get hung up on Walz’s emergency powers, which governors in nearly every state are still using to deal with COVID-19.
We urge Walz, Gazelka, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, the POCI Caucus and others to work together on legislation that takes a little from both, that is both pragmatic and innovative, attuned to what can be done soon, but goes beyond just the expected.
That will take longer than a week, but it shouldn’t be open-ended. Consensus takes a little time and a little willingness. If the Senate passes bills but leaves no time to work out differences with the House, nothing meaningful will have been accomplished.
There is a chance in the special session to do something worthy on several important fronts, to respond in a meaningful way to events that have thrust this state onto the world stage for the worst possible reasons.
That is worth a little extra time.