ST. PAUL — A Democratic-Farmer-Labor Senate leader on Thursday, May 28, called for swift passage of a set of changes to state policing laws following the death of George Floyd.
As protests continued in Minneapolis and began Thursday in St. Paul following the death of George Floyd, Assistant Senate Minority Leader Sen. Jeff Hayden, D-Minneapolis, on Thursday said lawmakers should expand the attorney general's authority to weigh in on police deadly force cases and revise peace officer training requirements.
Lawmakers are expected to return to St. Paul as early as June 12 to wrap up unfinished business like allocating funds for COVID-19 response and approving a borrowing bill to fund public construction projects around the state. Partisan tensions over the Walz administration's COVID-19 response blocked passage of the measure before the clock ran out on the regular legislative last week.
And Hayden said Democrats, who hold a majority in the House and minority in the Senate, would aim to include the proposals in a package of bills up for consideration in the divided statehouse. Minorities in each chamber are needed to approve borrowing bills and hold additional leverage in those conversations.
“We want this to be part of a global agreement,” Hayden said. “If we want a bonding bill, if we want other pieces of legislation that didn’t get done this year, we want reform."
Protests against Minneapolis police continued Thursday into their third day. And overnight Wednesday, demonstrators began setting arson fires and looting dozens of Minneapolis businesses. Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday activated Minnesota National Guard members to help respond to the scene.
A police officer on Monday, May 25, knelt on Floyd's neck for several minutes while he was facedown on the ground and handcuffed. Floyd later died at the hospital and footage of the incident prompted investigations and public outrage.
"We believe this is critical, we believe this is needed now and we’re tired of being at the back of the line," Hayden told reporters.
A working group on deadly use of force by police earlier this year handed down similar recommendations, including the creation of a new position to review concerns about closed cases, a requirement that police training in de-escalation techniques and expanded access to mental health and wellness resources. Attorney General Ellison and Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington on Wednesday again cited the report and said local governments and police agencies as well as lawmakers should consider following the guidance.
Whether the measures could gain bipartisan support at the Capitol wasn't immediately clear Thursday.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gaelka, R-East Gull Lake, on Thursday said a full investigation of Floyd's death is needed to better understand what happened and to "gain a full understanding of how we can do better." Gazelka didn't immediately respond to Hayden's comments or the proposed legislation he and other lawmakers were putting forth. But he said the Senate supported local leaders in helping resolve conflicts and divisions.
"I deeply appreciate the conversations and insight provided by my colleagues from the urban core. We want to help in whatever way we can," he said.