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MN Senate passes public safety bill without DFL-backed police reform measures

Democrats say the bill doesn't do enough to address police accountability.

The Republican-controlled Senate has passed a public safety omnibus bill without police reform measures. 

The public safety and judiciary funding bill that cleared the Senate on a 44-23 vote Thursday includes money for the court system, prisons and makes changes to sexual assault laws, including closing the "voluntary intoxication" loophole that was highlighted by a recent state Supreme Court decision

“Senate Republicans are committed to keeping Minnesotans safe and fully funding our public safety institutions,” Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said in a statement. “This bill provides justice to victims and protects Minnesotans. I understand that Minnesota is in the spotlight. Last summer we passed several major reforms to police accountability, and we will look at additional reforms this session. 

"It’s vitally important we keep the budget process moving forward with this bill," he said.

The omnibus bill doesn't include any police accountability measures despite an hours-long debate on the bill that included a push from Democrats to add such amendments in the wake of Daunte Wright's killing by a Brooklyn Center police officer on Sunday. 

One of those measures was an amendment proposed by Sen. Omar Fateh, DFL-Minneapolis. The amendment would prohibit police officers from holding membership in white supremacist organizations. A previous proposal was not added into the omnibus bill and on Thursday, Fateh's amendment was deemed not germane (didn't pertain directly to the public safety bill), so didn't get a vote.

Another proposed amendment would have increased penalties for hate-motivated crimes and increase funding to train police on how to investigate bias crimes. 

"This bill definitely does not meet the times that we are living in," Sen. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, said, according to KARE 11. "Communities that are hurting right now, communities that are traumatized, they need us to do our job so that they have a voice. So they feel like they're being listened to, so they feel like they're not being forgotten."

Democrats in the House have said they plan to hold up some major budget bills unless police reform measures are discussed at the Capitol. The Democrat-controlled House has approved some police reform proposals, but the Republican-controlled Senate has not held hearings on any of them.

Earlier this week, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said the Senate would hold "fact-finding" hearings on police accountability proposals, but said their priority is to pass budget bills but wouldn't make any promises that the hearings would led to any bills getting passed. 

And on Friday morning, Gazelka spoke to MPR News, saying he is open to a bill that would reduce traffic stops for some infractions, such as expired license tabs (that's why police pulled over Wright prior to him being fatally shot). 

The omnibus public safety bill the Senate passed Thursday also increases penalties on child pornography, sex trafficking and solicitation of children and child torture; harsher penalties for people who sell fentanyl; increased probation funding to supervise and protect communities where offenders live; expansion of alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent offenders; and appropriation for the "Healthy Start Act," a temporary release program for pregnant and postpartum inmates. 

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