MINNEAPOLIS — Legislative leaders had a tentative agreement Monday on the outlines of a police accountability bill, the top Republican in the Minnesota Senate said, but lawmakers struggled with the details and chances appeared even dimmer for a $1.9 billion public construction projects package that had yet to win the necessary GOP support in the Democratic-controlled House.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, of East Gull Lake, said he planned to adjourn the special session by midnight if there was no agreement on the projects bill, also known as a bonding bill. He said a deal was mostly up to the House.
"It's basically today or it's not going to happen," Gazelka said as lawmakers returned to the Capitol to resume their second special session of the year after several days of behind-the-scenes negotiations.
Gazelka said he and Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman, of Brooklyn Park, had a "tentative agreement" on the policing bill, "but we are still working through the language — that's always the tricky part."
He was right. Hope for quick action faded as talks continued behind closed doors through the day, making it likely that any debate would last late into the night The final bill language still had not been publicly released by Monday evening.
Democratic House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley, told lawmakers before a recess early Monday afternoon that the House floor debate could begin around mid-afternoon. But that time came and went with no public announcements. When the Senate took a break in the late afternoon, Republican Senate President Jeremy Miller, of Winona, told senators that he had no guidance to give them on when they might be called back.
The bill is a response to the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police on Memorial Day, and the leader made it clear that it omits some of the more controversial ideas proposed by Democrats.
Gazelka declined to give many details but said the tentative deal included bans on chokeholds and "warrior training" for officers, as well as a new advisory council under the state board that licenses law enforcement officers, and changes in arbitration rules. He said it does not include anything that would dismantle or defund police departments, expand voting rights for convicted felons or give the attorney general responsibility for prosecuting officer-involved shootings.
Bonding bills require a three-fifths majority to pass both chambers and must pass the House first. So some Republican votes are necessary for the bill to clear the House. But GOP House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, of Crown, told reporters that no Republicans would vote for the bonding bill as it stood Monday. Daudt said his caucus was shut out of the negotiations with House Democrats, Senate Republicans and Democratic Gov. Tim Walz.
The bonding bill includes a business tax break on equipment purchases sought by Republicans that would benefit farmers as well as small businesses damaged in the unrest that followed Floyd's death.
Walz had to call the special session to give lawmakers a chance to rescind the emergency powers he's been using to respond to the coronavirus pandemic. House Democrats blocked a GOP effort to void those powers. The session also gave legislators another chance to pass the bonding bill and policing measures, which they were unable to agree on during last month's special session. If the governor decides in the coming weeks to extend his emergency powers again, he'd have to call another special session.