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Minnesota lawmakers reach deal on public safety; bill includes restrictions on no-knock warrants, requirements for responding to mental health crises

Notably, the bill does not limit traffic stops for offenses like expired car tabs or a broken tail light.

A sheriff's deputy uses pepper spray at the fenced up perimeters of the Brooklyn Center Police Department, as protests continue days after former police officer Kim Potter fatally shot Daunte Wright, in Brooklyn Center.
REUTERS/Nick Pfosi
A sheriff's deputy uses pepper spray at the fenced up perimeters of the Brooklyn Center Police Department, as protests continued days after former police officer Kim Potter fatally shot Daunte Wright, in Brooklyn Center.
Minnesota lawmakers announced Saturday they plan to implement new restrictions on no-knock warrants and require 911 operators to refer calls to mental health crisis teams when appropriate, part of an agreement aimed at reforming policing and the criminal justice system.

The deal comes after months of negotiations in the wake of the police killing of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center earlier this year and the conviction of Derek Chauvin for the murder of George Floyd.

Lawmakers working to pass a $52 billion two-year budget have largely wrapped up talks on other issues, including the K-12 system and human services, ahead of a July 1 deadline for a government shutdown. But a compromise on public safety had eluded legislators, as Democrats pushed for larger changes to policing and the criminal justice system while Republicans resisted many of those efforts.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman
House Speaker Melissa Hortman
In addition to addressing laws on policing, the public safety bill funds the judiciary, the Department of Corrections and other functions of the criminal justice system. 

“It’s got a lot of good stuff in it,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, told MinnPost at the Capitol in St. Paul on Saturday, while also adding that, “It is not as much in police reform as we would like.”

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Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said in statement: “The budget will keep Minnesotans safe, help law enforcement do their job with the trust of the public and provide justice for victims.”

What’s in the deal

House lawmakers released the full bill on Sunday morning, though they cautioned it could change slightly before a planned House vote Tuesday.

If the deal is passed as is, legislators will regulate the use of no-knock warrants, which police use to enter a home by force without warning, and which have come under scrutiny nationwide after the killing of Breonna Taylor by police in Kentucky during a raid. KARE 11 reported in April that a family in Coon Rapids was wrongly held at gunpoint by police after they stormed the wrong house with a no-knock warrant.

The legislation says no-knock search warrants can’t be issued to raid someone for possession of drugs intended for personal use and says officers must provide detailed reasons for why they want to use the entry strategy. An earlier House DFL proposal outlawed no-knock warrants for any drug possession.

In the compromise deal, a warrant must also be approved by police department leadership. Police agencies will be required to report information on no-knock warrants to the state, which will have to compile the data to give to legislators.

Lawmakers agreed to change how the police licensing board collects data on officer misconduct in an effort to quickly identify bad cops. They will also pass legislation to require 911 operators refer calls to mental health crisis teams for a response as needed and when available. Existing law says 911 operators can make such referrals, but don’t have to.

The deal includes $1 million for departments around the state to buy and operate body-worn cameras. It prioritizes rural agencies, many of which say the cost of running the cameras, storing the video and disclosing it are too expensive. The public safety bill also includes $876,000 to pay for body cameras for officers with the Department of Natural Resources.

Lawmakers plan to spend $800,000 on grants aimed at “innovation in community safety,” and another $572,000 for grants aimed at helping youth avoid the criminal justice system.

State Rep. Carlos Mariani, a St. Paul DFLer who chairs the House’s Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee, said on Sunday the innovation grants invest in community groups that work to prevent violence.

“It’s a critical component of advancing public safety and addressing crime issues to have local citizens participating in that kind of preventative work,” Mariani said during a meeting of the House Rules Committee.

The original House bill called for $10 million in innovation grants and $1 million for the youth intervention programs.

The compromise bill also includes $1 million to create an office dedicated to investigating and tracking missing and murdered indigenous people. Forum News reported the state has had a task force on the issue since 2019, but it hadn’t been made permanent. Under the deal, lawmakers will also create a Missing and Murdered African American Women task force.

Gazelka, the Senate Majority Leader, noted during a Sunday interview on WCCO TV that the bill increases criminal penalties for people who assault or use a deadly weapon against a police officer, prosecutor, judge or corrections worker. The measure was first introduced after a man shot Waseca officer Arik Matson in the head. Matson survived but has faced traumatic brain injury.

Among other provisions in the broader deal, the Legislature will also change Minnesota’s system of civil asset forfeiture and curtail fines and fees in the criminal justice system that disproportionately hit poor Minnesotans.

Courts can now reduce or waive a $75 surcharge tied to criminal convictions on any offense and traffic tickets based on a person’s ability to pay. They can also waive a $12 surcharge tied to parking tickets.

Lawmakers also plan to broaden the state’s definition of being mentally incapacitated under sexual assault statutes in an effort to address a recent Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that held intoxicated rape victims aren’t considered incapacitated if they weren’t forced to become intoxicated. Under the bill, a person would be considered incapacitated if they’re under the influence of any substance to the degree that they’re incapable or giving consent to sex or “appreciating, understanding, or controlling” their conduct.

How we got here

In 2020, after Floyd was killed in South Minneapolis, Minnesota lawmakers passed new regulations aimed at reforming policing in the state. In part, they restricted departments from offering “warrior”-style training, banned neck restraints in most circumstances, altered an arbitration system that often led to cops getting their jobs back after being fired, and changed the law authorizing when police can use deadly force.

After Wright was killed by former officer Kim Potter, who has been charged with second-degree manslaughter, Democrats again called for more police reforms.

Gov. Tim Walz
REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Gov. Tim Walz
The issue has been a thorny one at the Capitol. Republicans argued some of the proposed legislation would hamstring police from doing their jobs at a time when violent crime is up in Minneapolis and elsewhere. Even though Democrats at the Legislature never proposed defunding any police, the GOP still said it wouldn’t take that step and the broader politics of “defund” efforts in Minneapolis made them hesitant to consider new regulations on cops.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka
But Democrats said reform was a top priority for them at the Capitol and pursued a host of new measures. Among the many DFL proposals that aren’t in the deal were plans to limit change body camera disclosure laws; ban police from affiliating with white supremacists or terror groups; and establish grants for public safety efforts that don’t involve police. A “Minnesota heals” program proposed by House DFLers that would pay for burial costs and other services for those killed by police, as well as help first responders with stress, won’t be funded.

The state’s officer licensing board separately plans to look at new rules for a ban on affiliation with white supremacists groups. The board is also working on a model policy for officer response to public assemblies, a DFL priority in the wake of what many saw as disproportionate force used against protesters in Minnesota at times over the last year.

Until Saturday, it was unclear if lawmakers would strike a deal that could pass the House and Senate and prevent a shutdown of the judiciary and corrections.

State Rep. Cedrick Frazier, a New Hope Democrat involved in the negotiations, left open the possibility earlier this week he may not support a public safety deal until he had seen what was in it and determined it had enough legislation he considered substantive reform.

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Walz, meanwhile, urged lawmakers to take what they could get from Republicans and walk away with what he believes are improvements to policing.

Notably, lawmakers did not agree to limit traffic stops for offenses like expired car tabs or a broken tail light as DFLers had hoped. Wright was killed after being stopped initially for outdated tabs. Cops tried to arrest the man after they found he had a gross misdemeanor warrant for his arrest. Data show Black drivers in Minneapolis and elsewhere are pulled over more often by police and searched at higher rates.

Republican Sen. Warren Limmer, who chairs the Senate’s Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee, had said this week he was open to altering enforcement of car tabs, but ultimately no policy on the matter made it into the compromise deal.

Gazelka said on WCCO Sunday he thinks the Senate will hold a hearing on limiting so-called pretextual traffic stops next year, but said the GOP wanted to explore the issue deeper because “some of the data clearly showed that we’re taking a lot of guns off the streets as a result of some of those stops.”

Gazelka also said he stopped legislation he considered “anti-police,” such as changes to qualified immunity, a legal standard that protects government employees like cops from personal liability in many lawsuits.

“We made a commitment to not take any anti-police measures or make it harder for law enforcement to keep people safe,” Gazelka said in his Sunday statement. “The recent increase in violent crime has all of us on edge, but this agreement keeps our promise.”

Legislators also didn’t agree to change or a delay new standards for when police can use deadly force that lawmakers approved in 2020 as Republicans and some Democrats had wanted. Some have questioned if an aspect of the law is constitutional, and departments had asked for more time to train on the regulations.

Mariani, the St. Paul DFLer, said on Sunday the final deal on policing measures were “a great disappointment to me” and should be a disappointment to House lawmakers.

Members of the Legislature’s People of Color and Indigenous Caucus scheduled a press conference Monday afternoon to talk about amendments they planned to try and add to the agreement once the legislation is on the House floor.

Hortman said on WCCO that the Senate was “unwilling” to have conversations about limiting traffic stops or taking up other DFL proposals. “I wouldn’t be talking about it as a police reform and accountability bill because most of the reform in this bill is on the judiciary side,” she said. “We really looked at fines and fees and other aspects of the judicial system that will cause change.”

Walz in a statement said the agreement between lawmakers “takes significant steps to make Minnesota’s criminal justice system more fair, while making new investments to keep communities safe.”

“It builds on the Minnesota Police Accountability Act we passed last summer, but let me be clear: There is more work to be done to improve policing in our state,” Walz said.

State government reporter Peter Callaghan contributed to this report