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MN House passes omnibus public safety bill with police reform measures

The Senate previously passed its omnibus public safety bill without police accountability legislation.

The Minnesota House of Representatives passed an omnibus bill early Thursday morning that includes police reform and accountability measures. 

Gov. Tim Walz, Democrats and activists have been calling on the Minnesota Legislature to pass such legislation for months but after Daunte Wright was fatally shot by a Brooklyn Center police officer during a traffic stop on April 11, the calls became more urgent.

The DFL-controlled House has held hearings on proposals that have the support of the POCI Caucus but the GOP-controlled Senate did not have hearings on the companion bills. It wasn't until last week, after Wright's killing, that Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said they'd hold "fact-finding" hearings on some proposals

Gazelka has stressed that the Legislature's priority is passing budget bills and he made no promises that hearings on police reform measures would become law.

The Republican-controlled Senate on April 15 passed its public safety omnibus bill on a 44-23 vote. The measure does not include the various police accountability measures in the House bill.

But that didn't stop the House from passing on a 70-63 vote a public safety, judiciary and civil law budget omnibus bill early Thursday, sending it back to the Senate.

It's expected that a conference committee will work out the differences in the bills but is still unclear what if any of the House's police reform measures will make it into the final bill.

The House bill

The House floor debate on the omnibus bill (HF1078/SF970) came a day after a jury found former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin guilty of murdering George Floyd on May 25, 2020. 

Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, who sponsored the House bill, told members to "acknowledge the moment we are in," Session Daily reports

“It’s our responsibility to create the public safety structure, framework, and resources that respect everyone’s human dignity and rights. Despite yesterday's (Tuesday's) verdict, we still have much work before us to achieve the meaningful change Minnesotans deserve,” Mariani, chair of the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Committee, said in a statement. 

“At its core, this bill is about building trust among all of us. By advancing greater police accountability, funding to make reforms possible, and centering equity and the voices of those who’ve experienced crimes, House DFLers are delivering guidance for a public safety system that reinforces strong and healthy community life for all Minnesotans," Mariani added. 

The bill contains a slew of provisions. Among the public safety reforms:

  • Limit peace officers' authority to stop or detain drivers just for petty misdemeanor violations, like having expired license tabs (that's why Wright was pulled over prior to his killing). 
  • Dedicate $14 million over the next four years for local police to issue body-worn cameras, reform-focused training and updating policies.
  • Build on the Minnesota Police Accountability Act, passed last summer after Floyd's murder, to strengthen the police officer misconduct database by building a "more effective" early warning intervention system to eliminate and correct harmful practices.
  • Allows local governments to establish civilian oversight councils and funds community organizations working to prevent crime in their communities while addressing the need for community healing after traumatic events
  • The Peace Officer Standards and Training Board (POST Board) would be required to modify the peace officer code of conduct to prohibit peace officers from associating with white supremacist groups or other extremist groups. 
  • No-knock search warrants would be limited to a few types of cases, including first-degree murder, hostage-taking, kidnapping, terrorism and human trafficking. 
  • Require law enforcement to release body camera footage of deadly force incidents to the deceased's family and representatives within 48 hours of the incident. 
  • Expands mental health training to help officers recognize indicators and respond effectively to people with Alzheimer's Disease and dementia. 
  • Requires the POST Board to develop and distribute a comprehensive model policy on responding to public assemblies in an effort to protect Minnesotans' First Amendment rights. 
  • Eliminates statute of limitations in cases involving alleged sexual assault by a peace officer or an alleged act by a peace officer that results in wrongful death. 
  • Gives many Minnesotans "second chance" opportunities following incarceration, including automatically expunging eligible low-level offenses after one completes a diversion program without committing a new crime. 

In addition to police reform measures, the bill would appropriate $2.7 billion for the 2022-23 biennium, which would largely go to funding the state Department of Public Safety and state Department of Corrections. The appropriation would be a $137.4 million increase from the current biennium, Session Daily notes. 

“We said from the start that our public safety reforms last year were just the beginning. The House DFL budget takes strong steps to improve a criminal justice system that lacks sufficient police accountability measures and fails too many victims of sexual assault,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman said in a statement. “We know that despite the guilty verdict in the Chauvin trial that our work is far from done. DFLers are committed to delivering safe communities and a fair justice system for all Minnesotans.” 

While DFLers are praising the legislation, Republicans in the House are not happy with all the provisions included in the massive bill. In a statement, Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, and Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, claim the bill would "put activists in charge of law enforcement agencies," hide some offenders' sentences and "divert violent criminals from prison time."

"While this bill does have some good points, the majority of this bill is hostile to law enforcement and counter to public safety. This is the wrong way to go for Minnesota," Johnson said. 

Scott agreed, adding the bill makes too many rules. 

“More government regulations make it harder to ensure a just and fair society in Minnesota,” Scott said in a statement. “As families and businesses struggle amidst the COVID pandemic, we need to make it easier for Minnesotans to live and work. This bill creates too many mandates at a time where we need our job creators and housing providers the most.”

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