The Minnesota Legislature adjourned the special session early Saturday, without an agreement on policing changes, a bonding bill or federal COVID-19 aid for local governments.
In a statement sent just after 6 a.m., Senate DFL Minority Leader Susan Kent said, “I am deeply disappointed Senate Republicans chose to leave before finishing our work.”
Republicans and DFLers reached an impasse Friday on a package of police reforms sparked by the death of George Floyd, a logjam that upended a weeklong special session where they also hoped to provide relief to cities and towns battered by rioting and the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Negotiations stretched into the evening, even as Gov. Tim Walz said conversations with both parties were continuing in “very good faith.”
Walz pleaded with Republicans to stay at the Capitol long enough to strike a deal on all of the outstanding issues, including a major infrastructure package that got caught up in the partisan standoffs over police accountability and the governor’s emergency powers.
Republicans who control the state Senate signaled that they planned to adjourn Friday night or early Saturday, with or without agreement on new law enforcement initiatives. Legislative aides said talks could continue in the coming weeks.
“Minnesotans expect us, like they do in their jobs, to finish when the work is done,” Walz said. “With the idea that what transpired over the last several weeks with the killing of George Floyd is certainly something that is at the center of what we should be doing.”
Democrats have pressed for a series of far-reaching police accountability measures in response to the killing of Floyd, who died at the hands of Minneapolis police. Among other changes, their package of roughly 20 bills would tighten the state’s deadly force laws and put the attorney general in charge of all cases where deadly force is used. They would also ban “warrior-style” training for law enforcement and restore voting rights for felons on probation,
“If we could just stay a few more days, we could get some amazing things done,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park.
But Senate Republicans oppose some of those provisions, particularly those that would give the attorney general’s office jurisdiction over cases against officers accused of improper use of deadly force. The GOP-led Senate instead passed a more modest package earlier this week that requires reporting and intervention in deadly force cases and directs a state officer licensing board to ban chokeholds and neck restraints, which were used on Floyd.
Democrats said the GOP measures don’t go far enough, and protesters outside the Capitol Friday called for broader reforms. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, argued that many of the Senate policing proposals “match up” with those put forward by House Democrats.
Lawmakers also left unsettled a plan to distribute $841 million in federal COVID-19 aid to communities around the state. Gazelka charged that new spending proposals attached to the federal aid plan by Democrats go beyond a deal struck earlier by legislative leaders. “A deal is a deal,” Gazelka tweeted Friday.
Also hanging in the balance were a major bonding bill to fund public works projects and a special aid package for Twin Cities businesses damaged by civil unrest following Floyd’s death.
The House passed a $300 million package to help those businesses Friday in a 74-53 vote. A different Senate proposal creating a “protest response fund” did not get a hearing during the special session.
“Many people are depending on us. They are waiting on us,” said bill sponsor Rep. Mohamud Noor, DFL-Minneapolis. “This comprehensive package sends the right message, creates that opportunity, builds an economic system that we can all rely on.”
House Republicans said more deliberation is needed. They cited concerns about a metro tax to support redevelopment, use of eminent domain and the creation of an unelected board to guide rebuilding efforts.
The special session was triggered by Walz’s extension of emergency powers to respond to the pandemic. Republicans pushed last week to end his authority, but that move was blocked by House Democrats.
Some of those negotiations have been over those powers, which Walz has used to close down schools, bars, restaurants and other businesses to limit the spread of the virus. Many of those restrictions have been loosened in recent weeks.
Walz said there could be a deal on how those powers are used going forward, one that could help clear the way for a bonding bill, which requires a three-fifths majority to pass. Discussions about the bonding bill, which would authorize long-term borrowing for public infrastructure projects around the state, have hovered between $1.3 billion and $2 billion. Both sides stressed the importance of the construction projects in helping revive the state’s economy.
“I told them, I’m more than happy to give up some of these things because I get blamed for everything,” Walz said. “I’m someone who truly believes that separation of powers is really important.”
Another extension of Walz’s emergency powers in July could bring lawmakers back to St. Paul for yet another special session.