Top DFL legislators are calling for sweeping police reforms in the wake of George Floyd’s death in Minneapolis, urging leaders to pass changes as part of a broader funding deal during a special session of the Minnesota Legislature in June.
Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, said Thursday that the Legislature has a “critical role to play” in adopting systemic changes to address racism and other issues with law enforcement. The assistant Senate minority leader said Democrats should demand action as part of negotiations over a public construction borrowing bill that remains unresolved since the Legislature adjourned May 18.
“We want that reform to be on the table or we are not going to have business as usual and start passing bonding bills and start passing all the other things that we need,” said Hayden, whose district includes the site of Floyd’s fatal encounter with police. “We think this is critical. We believe we have to do it now and we are tired of being in the back of the line.”
The Legislature is set to return for a special session as soon as June 12, when Gov. Tim Walz is expected to extend his emergency powers to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
Hayden said that while he’d be open to a special session before June 12, he and other lawmakers are crafting a package of reform proposals before state lawmakers return to St. Paul. Ideas include making changes to the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, giving more power to the state attorney general to intervene in police-involved deaths, and requiring that officers carry their own liability insurance.
Hayden’s district includes the intersection at 38th Street and S. Chicago Avenue, where bystanders filmed an officer kneeling on Floyd’s neck as the 46-year-old man, suspected of passing a fake $20 bill at a grocery store, became unresponsive and unable to breathe. Floyd was pronounced dead at a hospital shortly afterward. The state senator said the horrific images, recorded just eight blocks from his home, left him “speechless and outraged.”
Hayden said he also wants to explore measures to ensure that more police officers live in the areas they serve. “When I was a young man or a little boy there were a lot of cops who lived in the community,” he said. “They were our football coaches, they were our chess coaches, they were our debate coaches. They lived in the community, and I think they had a lot more respect for the community.”
Rep. Carlos Mariani, a St. Paul Democrat who chairs a House public safety and criminal justice reform committee, said he is also drafting new legislation for the special session. He supports making the reforms part of a broader legislative package.
“We have to act when we come back,” he said. “We just cannot convene as a Legislature in the midst of this horrible thing and not legislate.”
Police reform proposals could include elements of a sweeping set of recommendations unveiled in February by Attorney General Keith Ellison and other leaders of a state task force on deadly encounters involving police. Few of those measures advanced this spring as the Legislature narrowed its focus to the coronavirus crisis.
It’s unclear whether the revived proposals will garner the bipartisan support needed to pass in the special session, which is expected to center on a bonding bill, tax relief and spending issues related to the pandemic.
The bonding bill requires support from both parties, making it subject to intense legislative bargaining. Republicans in the DFL-controlled House already have vowed to withhold their votes on a bonding deal of potentially $1 billion or more until Walz agrees to end the state of emergency.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said in a statement that she thinks it is “entirely appropriate to revisit” the task force recommendations and other proposals in the special session.
In a tweet sent Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka suggested he may be open to some changes. “The evident injustice in the disregard for his humanity is appalling,” he said. “Going forward, I will work with other local and state leaders to see this pattern never repeat itself.”
Gazelka did not address Hayden’s proposals or the special session.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said he wasn’t yet aware of the specifics of the DFL proposals. But he said it is “past time” for a “big community conversation” on issues raised by Floyd’s death.
“There is one thing that every Minnesotan can agree on: What happened to that gentleman was shocking, and it should never happen to anyone, regardless of what color you are or what neighborhood you live in or what country you come from,” he said.
Staff writer Briana Bierschbach contributed to this report.