Police reform — which emerged as one of the most pressing debates this legislative session — still looms over the race to strike an accord on a new two-year budget by next week.
Democratic leaders, including Gov. Tim Walz, on Wednesday sought to apply further pressure on a bid to adopt a sweeping package of 12 new policing proposals before the May 17 adjournment date. The Senate GOP's leadership has meanwhile struck a more skeptical tone.
"There is so much potential here," Walz told reporters. "Why would Minnesota not seize the moment and become the best state in the nation on equity?"
Republican Majority Leader Sen. Paul Gazelka had singled out a joint committee on the public safety spending bill as the forum for considering the latest police reforms. Yet the conference committee has instead so far repeated the stalemate marking the 2021 session of Minnesota's divided government.
House Democrats have brought in families of those killed by law enforcement to urge passage of the new policing bills, part of a broader push for dozens of criminal justice bills. Senate Republicans — insistent on focusing on the next two-year state budget — have meanwhile not responded to the offer, citing the lack of overall budget targets from legislative leaders.
Gazelka said Wednesday that some of the police measures Democrats are pushing are "anti-police" and would not keep streets safe or ensure the state maintains enough police. He said Republicans have pushed back, but Democrats have threatened to not cooperate if the Senate does not do what they want on the law enforcement provisions.
With just days remaining until the deadline to adjourn, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, told reporters that leaders are inching toward a middle ground on budget targets and said negotiations sped up after the state got federal guidance Monday on how it can use $2.8 billion in COVID-19 relief funding. But she said they would not be able to wrap up everything by Monday.
Hortman called police reform and accountability measures "the linchpin" in session negotiations.
Still clinging to hope that police reform could get done before the Legislature adjourns, Walz on Wednesday convened a second news conference in as many weeks to urge passage of the measures this session, again referencing the deaths of George Floyd and Daunte Wright as an inflection point.
Walz was joined by DFL members of the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus, as well as a throng of community faith leaders and local business owners.
"If it looks like we have a community up here, that's our intent," Walz said.
Among the police accountability proposals singled out by Democrats in the House are measures to impose new limits on traffic stops, increased civilian oversight of police, new regulations around no-knock warrants and body camera footage, as well as prohibiting police from affiliating with white supremacist organizations.
"This is not a matter of knowing what to do, it is not a matter of resources per se," said Imam Makram El-Amin of Masjid An-Nur in Minneapolis. "This is a matter of will to do."
For the first time since the public safety committee began meeting this month, the Senate declined to call a hearing on Wednesday.
In recent days, the committee's GOP chair, Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Gove, has grown frustrated by the steady drip of new batches of policy proposals offered by the House DFL. He has said that Republicans were waiting for guidance from leaders on spending targets before presenting a counteroffer of their own.
And while Walz later told reporters that he was encouraged by the increased pace of offers being exchanged among legislative leaders he added that "philosophically, we still are a long ways apart."
Rep. Cedrick Frazier, a New Hope Democrat who serves as vice chair on the House's public safety committee and sponsor of multiple policing bills, said Wednesday that he is taking the Senate at its word that it is still reviewing the proposals.
Both Frazier and Walz held out hope that police reforms could still be part of any agreement that could come before the May 17 adjournment, although Walz acknowledged more broadly that "special sessions tend to be more of the norm now than special."
"You heard it from these voices: There is a fierce sense of urgency to get this done," Walz said. "There's a lot of folks who believe if we stretch this thing out, the sense of urgency becomes less and it's easier to go home and pretend like everything is OK."
Staff writer Jessie Van Berkel contributed to this report.
Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755