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From reforming the police to curtailing the governor’s powers, Minnesota’s House and Senate have vastly different priorities for special session

Minnesota State Capitol
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Minnesota State Capitol

It’s almost as though two special sessions will begin Friday — on the same day but in different chambers.

In the Minnesota House, the session will be about public safety and policing. Around the corner in the Capitol, the Senate will convene a session about COVID-19 and the extension of the emergency powers of Gov. Tim Walz.

It’s not as though each side won’t acknowledge the other’s goals. It’s just that it isn’t going to be a top priority for what will be a unique special session of the Minnesota Legislature.

In the House, a focus on policing

It was just one week after the Legislature’s regular session adjourned that a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd in south Minneapolis while three other officers stood by. The death was followed by weeks of demonstrations and several days of riots that left swaths of damage on Lake Street in Minneapolis and University Avenue in St. Paul, while a series of fires and break-ins also caused severe damage throughout North Minneapolis.

In response, DFL lawmakers in both the House and Senate, led by the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus (POCI), have released a series of  bills to begin to reform policing and criminal justice systems. The mayors of both Minneapolis and St. Paul as well as lawmakers from the stricken neighborhoods have also pushed the state to help to cover rebuilding costs.

Attorney General Keith Ellison
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Attorney General Keith Ellison
Democrats did not pull their policing bills out of thin air over the last two weeks. Many of them address longstanding DFL priorities or align with recommendations released in February by a task force convened by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison.

But DFLers want action while public attention on the issues is high and while at least some of their proposals have gained wider backing. Last week the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, for instance, endorsed legislation to transfer prosecuting power in all cases when an officer kills someone to the state AG. Currently, county attorneys have the primary role but can request assistance from the state. The governor can also hand over prosecution to the AG.

Among other things, the package of legislation, which includes more than 20 provisions, would alter many police training standards and create a new criminal statute for when police use unjustified force that results in death or severe injury.

Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, accused the GOP of resisting change by not acting quickly enough on policing and criminal justice, specifically blaming GOP Sen. Warren Limmer of Maple Grove for blocking reform efforts as the chair of the Senate’s Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee. 

Hayden also said he would stand in the way of other legislative priorities in order to vault policing and rebuild damaged communities to the top of the Legislature’s to-do list. 

“Black folks are sick and tired of literally suffering from people telling them to wait until the moment is right,” Hayden said. “How many black men and women have to die before an urgent response is warranted with our colleagues?”

State Sen. Jeff Hayden
MinnPost photo by Walker Orenstein
Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, accused the GOP of resisting change by not acting quickly enough on policing and criminal justice, specifically blaming GOP Sen. Warren Limmer of Maple Grove for blocking reform efforts as the chair of the Senate’s Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.
Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights, voiced similar sentiments last week, saying POCI voices “haven’t been amplified, and we haven’t been at the center of making decisions on strategies to address the injustice that is prevalent not only in our state but in the United States. If you’re not going to listen to us now, today, you’re never going to listen to us.”

On Wednesday, Walz also said policing bills would be a priority, and perhaps his top priority, in the upcoming session. He and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan endorsed the legislation from the POCI caucus and Ellison’s task force, and urged the Legislature to act quickly. 

“I don’t want to call the national guard back to the streets here because I think that is what would end up happening if we don’t address this,” Walz said.  

Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan
Office of the Governor
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan
Flanagan said she talked Wednesday morning to Valerie Castile, the mother of Philando Castile, who was shot to death by St. Anthony police in 2016. “She said God gave you Philando, but Philando wasn’t enough. And now God has given you George Floyd,” Flanagan said. “We cannot let this opportunity pass, it is too important.”

Yet the call for speedy change may run up against the sober deliberation preached by GOP leaders. In a speech outlining his priorities for the special session last week, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said he has been “searching his soul” over the demonstrations in the Twin Cities. 

He also said he met with a group of black community leaders to learn more about racial inequities in the state. “I’m listening a lot, and I’m making mistakes, and I’m talking to people to understand what’s going on,” Gazelka said. “Why is the pain so deep? I want to understand.”

He said the bonding bill could have a bigger focus on helping businesses in the Twin Cities recover from damage, and that small business grants focused on people of color, women and veterans could get an injection of cash. 

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka
Gazelka also said “more work can be done” on criminal justice reform, but also argued Limmer and the GOP have been more willing to move civil rights or policing legislation in recent years than DFLers give them credit for, citing a 2019 bill that allows homeowners to eliminate restrictive covenants on their property and 2017 measures to recruit more people of color to policing and to require law enforcement to implement de-escalation and crisis management training.

Still, the majority leader cautioned against lawmakers using the special session to try to pass a sweeping police reform agenda, given that might take time and lengthy work to find the right answers, he said.

“To actually expect that to be done in the next week is not how the legislative bodies work,” Gazelka said. “We meet in committees and we fully vet issues to make sure we get it right because it’s not just for now, this is for a generation to come.”

In the Senate, a push to curtail the governor’s powers

Gazelka’s press conference addressed both the Floyd homicide and the governor’s emergency powers, and he acknowledged that one of the first acts in the Senate will be to vote to rescind the emergency declaration put in place and extended by Gov. Tim Walz.

By extending his declaration of a peacetime emergency to respond to COVID-19, Walz also had to reconvene the Legislature in order to give it the opportunity to rescind the order. And that’s what the GOP-controlled Senate plans to do — even if the DFL-controlled House has little interest in following suit and will block the move from passing there. If both houses can’t agree on voting to rescind the order, the governor’s emergency declaration stands.

Gazelka has been relatively supportive of Walz’s actions to combat the novel coronavirus in Minnesota. But that support has waned as the weeks went past and the governor was not moving to reopen the economy and society as fast as Gazelka wanted. 

Now he says that the crisis of the pandemic has ebbed and Walz needs to cede his emergency powers and return the state to normal governance. Doing so would mean Walz would have to request authority from the Legislature before acting; it also means that the nearly 70 emergency orders signed since March 13 would be voided, including a ban on evictions for renters; restrictions on large public gatherings; the expansion of unemployment benefits; a ban on price gouging; permission for out of state medical professionals to work without state licensing; and even allowing food trucks to feed truckers at rest stops.

Each could be enacted by lawmakers should the emergency powers not be extended. But each could also fall victim to partisan politics. A separate peacetime emergency to respond to street unrest was signed May 28 and would not be affected.

“Emergency powers have been the governor telling us what to do,” Gazelka said. “I think it’s time for the state of Minnesota to stop mandating what’s open and what’s not open. Let individuals decide for themselves how to keep safe.” That includes schools in the fall and youth sports over the summer.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt has been the most prominent GOP voice on reopening, often being sharply critical of Walz’s actions over the last six weeks. “Did I agree with him early on? Absolutely,” Daudt said. “When we thought that this was something different, I think he took the appropriate steps. Those are tough decisions to make and he had my support at the time.” 

But since then, Daudt said, the world has learned a lot about the pandemic, infection rates have slowed and forecasts of outbreaks in areas with fewer restrictions have not been realized. Neighboring states that did not limit their economies with stay at home orders — and even Wisconsin, which saw its state supreme court end the state of emergency — have lower rates of spread.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt has been the most prominent GOP voice on reopening, often being sharply critical of Walz’s actions over the last six weeks.
“I just wish the governor would follow the data and the science,” Daudt said. “Our government got it wrong.” 

He predicted that in a month, Walz’s grades from the public will decline and DFLers in the Legislature will be less supportive of his handling of the crisis.

Even so, DFL leaders in the House and Senate aren’t going to go along with a repeal of the emergency declaration extension. “The objective of our work is to protect the people of the state of Minnesota and to improve their lives,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park. 

The best way to do that in the midst of a continuing pandemic, she said, is via the peacetime emergency and executive orders. “Our actions would match the governor’s actions, and we believe he has properly exercised his emergency authority,” Hortman said, adding that she thinks Walz’s orders have saved thousands of lives. 

House Speaker Melissa Hortman
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
House Speaker Melissa Hortman
But Hortman said she thinks Walz should work with the Legislature on some issues, including how best to spend the $1.87 billion the state received from the federal CARES Act, even though he likely has authority elsewhere in state law to spend it as he thinks best. 

DFLers and Republicans agree they left significant work unfinished when the regular session ended May 18, including a bonding bill that has been cited as a means to help rioted-damaged neighborhoods rebuild; COVID-related tax relief pushed by the Senate, and COVID-related financial assistance pushed by the House.

“The places where we can produce together we should,” Hortman said. “But to the extent that we have Senate Republicans who would stand completely in the way of progress, that’s a situation where executive authority makes more sense, to not let the GOP be an obstacle.”

Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, said if the Legislature could work together as it did in the first six weeks of the state response, that would be helpful. “But if we get bogged down in partisanship and it slows down the responses that are needed, that’s the problem.”

How long will it take?

Hortman said while there are no legal deadlines for this special session, there are practical ones. Many lawmakers have other jobs, and while they make arrangements during the regular session, they often don’t for unexpected sessions like this one. There’s the fact that all 201 seats in the House and Senate are on the ballot this fall, and most incumbents are seeking reelection.

“A lot can happen quickly but we do have a new and significant workload,” she said of the address policing and the rebuilding or damaged neighborhoods. 

And while some bills have previously been discussed and even passed by the House, others are new. “It’s hard to say how fast or slow those conversations will be because we’re still getting bills drafted to get things ready to begin conversations with Republicans,” Hortman said.

Said Gazelka: “I do expect the session to be a shorter session and then groups meeting on these more complicated issues.”

But Walz expressed less patience. “We need to quit seeing legislating as a time-constrained exercise and see it as a results-based exercise,” he said Wednesday. “We can leave when we get the people’s work done.”

Comments (33)

  1. Submitted by Eric House on 06/11/2020 - 01:15 pm.

    I am not convinced by Sen. Gazelka’s words. As the article notes, none of these policing bills are new ideas, and he doesn’t seem to be able to speak to specific merits, just that he doesn’t want to rush. So it’s OK to push reopening for a pandemic that started just a few months ago, but the ongoing problems of policing in Minnesota need more study? please- that’s not even a good lie.

  2. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 06/11/2020 - 01:44 pm.

    ““I just wish the governor would follow the data and the science,” Daudt said. “Our government got it wrong.” ”

    Being lectured by Kurt Daudt on following data and science is too rich beyond words. He should stick with what he is accomplished at: gun waving used car purchases.

    “A recent study published in Nature (one of the top scientific journals in the world), has concluded that shelter-in-place policies have prevented about 60 million coronavirus infections in the Unites States and 285 million in China. Another study published in Nature, indicated that shutdown orders saved about 3.1 million lives in 11 European countries. For more on these two studies, see the Washington Post article and the article in NPR news).”

    • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/11/2020 - 02:11 pm.

      Your fancy-pants peer-reviewed scientific journals are all well and good, but what about this guy who writes for One America News and who has a lot of people watching his YouTube channel? Shouldn’t we be paying attention to what he says?

      • Submitted by Carl Brookins on 06/11/2020 - 02:59 pm.

        OK Mr. Holbrook, let’s talk about OAN now becoming Mr. Trump’s favorite “netwqork.” There are numerous facts to indicate why Mr. Trump favors OAN, but let me just mention one. Remember Pizzagate? That was the one in which an OAN commentator accused Mrs. Clinton and other liberals of running a pedophile ring out of a D.C. restaurant basement. It wasn’t true and what’s more the restaurant didn’t even have a basement! OAN caters to right-wing white conspiracy theorists who have no facts, only loud mouths. Facts are beyond their understanding. Huh. Maybe that’s why Trump likes OAN. Mr. Holbrook, you embarrass yourself by citing OAN.

      • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 06/11/2020 - 09:56 pm.

        I am sure Mr Daudt’s brief case holds both all the latest issues of The Used Car Trader and The Scientific American.

        Jason Lewis, Paul Gazelka and Kurt Daudt: if they were a poker hand one would just ask for all new cards…

  3. Submitted by Bob Barnes on 06/11/2020 - 02:28 pm.

    So why are the taxpayers on the hook to rebuild buildings the rioters burned down? No. Make the rioters pay for the damage they caused.

    The only fixes needed for police is eliminating qualified immunity and the union. Problem solved. Bad cops will then be prosecuted for their actions.

    • Submitted by Edward Blaise on 06/11/2020 - 09:49 pm.

      Brilliant!

      Now if you can identify the specific folks who initiated destruction and gain access to their likely limitless funds the problem is solved!

      Conor seemed to have better ideas…

    • Submitted by BK Anderson on 06/12/2020 - 09:20 am.

      “make the rioters pay…”

      wonderful practical advice! That’ll definitely solve the problem, since most arsonists have enormous trust funds…

      As for police unions, incredibly there are non-unionized police departments in the south, filled with bad cops too!

      The issue with the police unions is their ability to defeat effective discipline of the force, not that they are bad per se. No need to throw the baby out with the bath water.

      • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 06/12/2020 - 10:15 am.

        That’s why you remove qualified immunity as well. There never should have been such a thing in the first place as no one is above the law.

        • Submitted by BK Anderson on 06/15/2020 - 11:08 am.

          I’d note that both state and federal Repubs have now made clear they refuse to reform qualified immunity for coppers, against your sage advice.

          I doubt, however, that anything Repubs do could sway you in your support of “conservatism” and its wholly-owned party…

    • Submitted by cory johnson on 06/12/2020 - 09:26 am.

      That wouldn’t do enough to advance the leftist agenda. Please don’t let facts get in the way of feelings.

    • Submitted by Richard Owens on 06/12/2020 - 09:34 am.

      If its taxpayer money that you care about, you shroud look at all the taxpayers money used every year just to pay for police misconduct lawsuits.

      George Floyd’s family will likely be offered a substantial settlement for the wrongful death. Would anyone NOT award his family in a civil suit?

      I understand the need for money and the core of the Republican Party is, after all, about individuals and corporations making more MONEY. and keeping it for themselves.

      But grownups know Money is not everything, and taxpayers are not even beginning to pay for the federal spending spree of the reckless debtor Prez. He even has us paying tariffs on stuff we need, while running us deficits way over a trillion bucks.

      C’mon, man, “All that glitters is not gold.” The world OBVIOUSLY needs a higher set of values that will unify mankind in an existential quest to try to save our planet from global climate disaster.

      The idea that the economy is all that matters will be demonstrated when the economy cannot unite us enough to collectively address our basic human need to survive.

      Loving money and hating people will kill us all.

      • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 06/12/2020 - 10:19 am.

        The cops involved should be paying for any civil suits and their insurance. That’s why we need to remove immunity and the unions. Doing so would mean the taxpayers never again have to pay for lawsuits involving any public official.

        The rioting shouldn’t have happened and should have been allowed to happen. It has nothing to do with the lawsuits coming involving the cops and the Floyd family. Thus anyone found to have been at the riots must be arrested, charged and sued into bankruptcy to pay for their crimes and any costs to rebuild. If you can’t do the time then don’t commit the crime.

        • Submitted by BK Anderson on 06/12/2020 - 01:34 pm.

          While qualified immunity should be abolished to the extent it can be, we’ve had it for decades and it still hasn’t prevented hundreds of millions of dollars in settlements in brutality cases, so getting rid of it likely won’t do much. I doubt that civil litigation reforms alone will solve this systemic police problem. But I will grant that you are at least open to blaming the police for much of this.

          “anyone found to have been at the riots must be arrested…”

          More practical advice! Assuming that you don’t really mean all 5,000-10,000+(?) protesters should be arrested, they will certainly work to identify the arsonists and looters that they can. Some small number caught will do some time; they are likely indigent. This is the way with urban riots/unrest.

          • Submitted by Betsy Larey on 06/13/2020 - 08:59 am.

            There was no need to allow 500 million dollars worth of damage to occur. We have police/ county sheriffs, state police and if need be a national guard unit put in place to stop things like this from occurring.
            What we don’t have in place is politicians with a spine to let them do their job. I am all in favor of peaceful protests. After night one, it was apparent this was going to spiral into something else altogether. But the Democrats in Minnesota, being so worried about being politically correct, refused to do a damn thing to stop it. And the worst incident, in my opinion, was when Mayor Frey told the 3rd precinct to clear out. And lied about it. When confronted with pictures of cops taking their stuff out the back door during the day, he finally fessed up and said “ life is more important that brick and mortar”. Unless, again in my opinion, you own the brick and mortar.
            Then on Thursday Walz gets up on the podium and throws Frey under the bus and puts himself in charge. Sure enough, on cue, nothing is done on that evening, no guard in sight. It took six nights to get this to stop. It should have taken one.
            And the owner of 7-Sigma, a business employing 50 people on Lake St called and begged for police and fire. They said it was’t safe for them to come and he watched in horror as his multi-million dollar business was burned to the ground. Not safe for them to come? Who’s job is it to come? It’s yours, that’s what your badge says protect and serve. BTW, when interviewed he said he’s rebuilding in the suburbs, no way would he stay in the city. I will bet you’ll see this trend continuing.
            I am done with Minnesota. Officially. House goes on the market in Sept. It’s on a nice lake in St Paul if anyone is interested.

            • Submitted by BK Anderson on 06/15/2020 - 11:04 am.

              This is a lot of post hoc second guessing, and it looks like you are blaming both the hapless politicians and the (terrified?) police. As for the MN Guard and state police, you seem not to understand that it takes time to activate and concentrate such (citizen) units. They don’t materialize instantly; this isn’t Star Trek.

              Here, the Mpls. authorities gave up the 3rd Precinct on Thursday night, against the advice of Walz by report. 48 hours later (Sat. night) the police/military forces were sufficiently strong enough to defeat rioters, although it appears the arsonists (whether rightwing or leftwing or both) had decided to retire from the field and melt away after Friday’s “victory”.

              As for your threatened departure from urban MN, that sounds a good idea, as you seem much more sympathetic to the ideals and values of Florida’s Trumpite, DeSantis. Best of luck!

        • Submitted by Janis Froehlig on 06/13/2020 - 11:27 am.

          You’re assuming anyone can afford to sue. It takes a lawyer about four hours to take in what I do in a month. Add to that public defenders are the bottleneck in our judicial system, and you can start to put together one way rampant capitalism has effectively destroyed American democracy. That’s just one.

          What’s truly disturbing is how expensive ads billing me as a Socialist are being believed.

  4. Submitted by Julie Stroeve on 06/11/2020 - 04:45 pm.

    If Gazelka understood the issues, Gazelka wouldn’t have to ask the question. wow! he’s so tone-deaf it makes my ears ring!!!!!

  5. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 06/11/2020 - 06:27 pm.

    The GOP has been focused on the next election and tribal politics, their turning on Walz, Frey and Carter are coordinated with Kroll and Trump people. With all the issues we have, Gazelka, Daudt, et al, are focused on their usual targets, the next election and the power to rule, as opposed to governing. They stuff their politically unpopular issues, guns, god and gays in the face of overwhelming public polling that says that 60-70% of the public disagrees with their positions. They could care less about this state, it is PARTY, PARTY, PARTY and nothing else. The funny thing in this state is we usually get more balanced legislation with all DFL, because the urban/rural splits come out in the discussion and their is more real consensus building than you ever see from GOP.

  6. Submitted by Tom Anderson on 06/11/2020 - 11:26 pm.

    Looks like a long session with little accomplished. Can’t say that I am in favor of knee jerk police related statutes created and vetted in a short time.

  7. Submitted by John N. Finn on 06/12/2020 - 11:24 am.

    “Gazelka also said….. GOP have been more willing to move civil rights or policing legislation in recent years than DFLers give them credit for, ,,,”

    I’m wondering if Rep. Steve Drazkowski will keep introducing his police reform bill prohibiting the profiling of motorcyclists and requiring training programs to prevent such? That’s been on the wish list of the long suffering Harley biker community in recent sessions. It gets support from other GOP reps and senators but hasn’t been enacted yet.

  8. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 06/12/2020 - 10:21 pm.

    The US Supreme Court held restrictive covenants based on race were unconstitutional in 1953. (Barrows v. Jackson). Nice to know Mr. Gazelka and his party finally caught up in 2019.

  9. Submitted by Janis Froehlig on 06/13/2020 - 11:15 am.

    Gazelka: That’s not how it works.

    POC: Exactly.

  10. Submitted by Edward Blaise on 06/18/2020 - 08:47 am.

    One recommended change is to move all responsibility for officer involved deaths to the State Atty. General.

    This removes the case from the local County Attys. who have many entanglements with the police in the regular course of their jobs.

    Hmm… seems like a good idea.

    Of course opposed by Gazelka and Warren Limmer because Keith Ellison is a partisan Democrat. Of course, if the even more partisan GOP candidate, Doug Wardlow, had beaten Ellison they would see this as a good idea.

    Warren Limmer, Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has served in our state legislatures for 32 years and still cannot see beyond the next election.

    Good luck accomplishing anything with Gazelka, Limmer and Daudt guiding part of the argument. Sitting in these august bodies in the ornate facilities we have given them to do the state’s business obviously does nothing to impart wisdom or civic responsibility. Put ’em all in a pole barn in Pennock with a 4 year term limited time in office: Couldn’t be any worse than what we get out of them now…

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