Republican leaders in the Minnesota Senate have dropped plans to hold hearings next week on police accountability reforms sought by Gov. Tim Walz and Democratic legislators.
Speaking on the Senate floor late Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said the GOP-led Senate will instead debate the policies in a conference committee, where a limited number of lawmakers will resolve differences between the House and Senate public safety spending bills.
Gazelka cited this week's conviction of former officer Derek Chauvin in George Floyd's killing and the Department of Justice's planned probe of the Minneapolis Police Department as factors in the Senate's change of plans.
"Anybody that was looking for a guilty verdict — justice has been clearly served with all three counts guilty," said Gazelka, who likened the outcome to "letting air out of a balloon."
Gazelka also said the same staff required for Senate hearings on police reform also will be needed for the upcoming marathon negotiations to reconcile the House's 354-page public safety bill with its 79-page Senate counterpart.
Sen. Ron Latz of St. Louis Park, who serves as DFL lead on the Senate's Public Safety Committee, criticized Gazelka for having "walked back his promise" for new hearings on police accountability.
"Pushing the issue into a conference committee is a cop out: it will have limited participation and essentially cuts out a large contingent of Senators who deserve to be heard on these issues," Latz said in a statement Friday.
Gazelka initially said in the days after the Brooklyn Center police shooting of Daunte Wright that the Senate would hold "fact-finding" hearings this month on a slate of proposals that have passed the DFL-led House.
Yet he offered no assurance that new legislation would pass this session, and pointed to a sweeping package of policing bills passed after Floyd's death last summer.
DFL lawmakers and community activists have said that the policing legislation passed last July was merely a first step and did not go nearly far enough toward curbing further deadly police encounters and rebuilding police-community trust.
The latest round of policing bills that the governor is urging the Legislature to pass include limiting when police can stop motorists, ending qualified immunity for officers, creating citizen oversight panels for police and establishing a ban on officer affiliation with white supremacist groups, among other measures.
The Minnesota Peace Officer Standards and Training Board on Thursday approved a ban on licensed officers affiliating with white supremacist extremist groups and also agreed to create a model policy for law enforcement responses to protests and journalists covering them.
Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755