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Rep. Carlos Mariani
Rep. Carlos Mariani, the House Public Safety committee chair, consults a document during a virtual hearing Monday. His committee passed three major pieces of police-reform legislation late Monday, but only one of the bill garnered a single GOP vote. (Photo courtesy of House Public Information Services)

DFL-led panel OKs sweeping police reforms

Senators respond with much smaller package

After 13 hours of special session hearings over two days, the DFL-led House Public Safety committee on Monday passed three mini-omnibus bills that constitute a sweeping police-reform package.

For all their efforts, House Democrats attracted just one GOP committee member’s vote—that of Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg—on just one of their three bills.

As this edition was going to press Tuesday, the Senate was taking up a much smaller and more targeted set of police-reform bills, which were heard by the GOP-led Senate Judiciary earlier in the day.

Despite the lack of Republican support for the House proposals, House Public Safety Chair Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, said on Monday night that he was heartened by his committee’s accomplishment. Several minor amendments to the bills did receive significant GOP support.

“I am more encouraged than discouraged by the common ground that I think that we have,” Mariani told his committee as work wrapped up late Monday. “We’ll continue to work on the space that we don’t. I certainly understand people’s votes either way.”

The three House bills, assembled by the House People of Color and Indigenous Caucus in the wake of George Floyd’s May 25 death in police custody, largely consist of DFL House bills that have been introduced previously but never crossed the finish line. The packages include:

House File 93, the Reclaiming Community Oversight Act. This bill, the most far-reaching of the three, contains a police choke-hold ban and a duty for police to intercede—regardless of their rank—whenever they see another officer applying unreasonable force. Both measures also are favored by Senate Republicans.

The bill also bans “warrior-style” police training that could “increase a peace officer’s likelihood or willingness to use deadly force.” An amendment to tweak that provision got a 17-0 Public Safety vote, but the measure is not present in the Senate bill.

HF 93 also reforms police arbitrations to make it easier to dump bad cops; allow Minneapolis and St. Paul to impose police residency requirements; and require cities with police departments with more than 50 officers to form “civilian oversight councils” with investigative powers.

It would also repeal the statute of limitations for citizen wrongful-death suits against police, to prevent departments from running out the clock by slow-walking internal investigations.

A measure that had been in the bill, to make some forms of police personnel data public, was dropped by its author, Mariani.

HF 93 is the bill that got a cross-over GOP vote from Republican Miller. The other two got no Republican votes. HF 93 was approved, with amendments, by an 11-6 vote.

House File 1, the Reforming Accountability Act. This bill contains another Senate-favored provision—rewriting the state’s use-of-force statute (Minn. Stat. Sec. 626.8452) to emphasize respect for “the sanctity and value of all human life.”

Department of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington is among those who favor the change. “It’s not only practical,” he said in response to a reporter’s question at a June 10 press conference. “It’s already in application in Camden [N.J.]. And it’s been in application in several other departments.”

HF 1 also includes a provision, supported by Republicans on the House committee, to take all police-involved shootings out of local police department hands and give them to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for investigation.

But another provision, making the Attorney General’s Office prosecutor in all police-involved killings, met staunch GOP resistance—despite majority support by the Minnesota County Attorney’s Association. Republicans insisted that rural county attorneys neither need nor want the help.

A final provision, to reform the bail system by making it unnecessary to post cash bail in most misdemeanor cases, among other changes, was supported only by Democrats.

With several amendments, HF 1 passed the Public Safety committee, 10-7.

House File 92, the Re-imagining Public Safety Act. This bill requires the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board, the state’s police licensing agency, to create a Critical Incident Review Team to look into every instance of a cop firing a gun and causing bodily injury. It would then make recommendations to the appropriate police agency. The bill also creates a “community-led public safety office” to “create structures that drive systems change.”

Among Republicans, HF 92’s most unpopular measure would restore the vote to felons as soon as they are out of prison. GOP members also were upset that a measure that they supported, creating a “peer counseling” system for cops dealing with post-traumatic stress, was dropped from the bill.

Rep. Kelly Moller, DFL-Shoreview, explained that the peer-counseling language is not ready, because stakeholders haven’t agreed to it. As it stands, she said, the provision conflates “peer support” with “critical incident support management,” and those subjects need to be untangled before it moves to a vote. That rankled Republicans.

“Probably the best provision in this bill is removed,” said Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, the committee’s GOP lead and a former police officer. “That makes it really difficult.”

HF 92 passed, as amended, by a 10-7 vote.


Emotional testimony

Monday’s hearing, where no public testimony was taken, was a relatively sedate affair compared to Saturday’s emotionally charged hearing, which lasted more than seven hours and took in voluminous testimony.

Some people complained that the DFL measures don’t go far enough to meet the urgency of the moment. Among those was Julia Decker, political director for ACLU Minnesota. The committee, for instance, should pass legislation creating a fully independent use-of-force review office, rather than forming it within the POST Board, she said.

“Our policing system is deeply rooted in white supremacy, and we need our lawmakers to do more than tinker around the edges,” the ACLU-MN said in a Tweet posted after the Saturday hearing.

Nekima Levy Armstrong, the lawyer and racial justice activist, also was critical. She told lawmakers that current state policy allows too many police departments to get “out of control.” Blaming a few “bad apples”—as several committee members did during debate—rather than dealing with larger issues of police culture, she said, only encourages more police violence.

Valerie Castile, mother of the slain Philando Castile, expressed frustration with the Legislature’s inability thus far to pass meaningful reform. Most of the bills rolled into the three omnibus packages have been previously vetted, she noted.

Missing among them is a 2017-18 session bill, House File 1590, dubbed “The Castile Doctrine” after her son, which now is “picking dust up,” she said. That bill would have required officers to carry what amounts to malpractice insurance, but it never got a hearing and is not part of the present package.

Despite the omission, Castile urged members to approve the bills before them. “I support these bills with every fiber of my soul,” she said. “We as a community don’t have a voice on anything. We need our voices heard.”

Amity Dimock, whose “gentle giant” son Kobe E. Dimock-Heisler, 21, was killed by Brooklyn Center police last year, made a deeply emotional appeal for a measure to train police to better deal with autism.

“It took me nine months to get out of bed after my son died,” said Dimock, who has now become an activist for her cause. “The family is broken.”

However, the autism measure, from Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights, was withdrawn from the reform package for future consideration.

Only a handful of DFL provisions are included in the five Senate bills heard in Senate Judiciary Tuesday, including the use-of-force statutory rewrite.

Another bill, to provide peer counseling support for officers, was amended out of the House package. The other Senate bills deal with data collection, training money and hiring-information access.

The five GOP provisions were expected to be taken up on the Senate floor Tuesday afternoon, after this story’s deadline.

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