ST. PAUL — Days before Minnesota lawmakers were expected to return to the Capitol for a special legislative session, the Minnesota Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party said it would put pressure on Republican legislators to pass police accountability measures in the wake of George Floyd's killing.
DFL party leaders on Friday, July 10, announced they would hold a rally in support of the measures Saturday and launch digital ads targeting GOP senators in swing districts. The moves were aimed at getting the GOP-led Senate to approve police reform measures approved by the DFL-controlled House.
But as legislative leaders continued closed-door discussions about police accountability, bonding and other top priorities, it wasn't clear that the partisan nudge would help forge a compromise. Just days earlier, Gov. Tim Walz, a Democrat, said lawmakers should tone down the campaigning and focus on passing a public construction project and police reforms.
Partisan disagreements stymied efforts to pass a bonding bill and a slate of policing law changes last month and lawmakers left a one-week special session with little to show for it. And now they'll get a do-over as they weigh a veto of Walz's expanded authority under the peacetime emergency for the COVID-19 pandemic, criminal justice reform and a bonding bill.
DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin said party launched digital ads urging constituents to call eight Republican senators to urge them to approve the package of police accountability bills put forth by the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus.
“No matter how hard they try, Senate Republicans cannot keep ignoring the demands for real police reform coming from their constituents,” Martin said in a news release. “Minnesotans will be watching next week’s special session closely. If Senate Republicans walk away from their jobs without getting anything done yet again, they should not expect to keep them."
Republicans have made a point that they're open to reforms, and they approved a handful last month including banning chokeholds and more training for officers, but they said they wouldn't support efforts to defund or dismantle police departments.
"The Senate GOP supports police reforms like banning chokeholds and de-escalation training. However, we won’t support any DFL 'reforms' that defund or dismantle the police," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said Tuesday, July 7, on Twitter.
Democrats at the Capitol haven't proposed defunding police, but in Minneapolis, the City Council there is weighing the move to replace the police department with the "department of community safety and violence prevention."
Under the plan, the department would maintain a division of licensed officers but would be led by a non-law enforcement figure.
Exactly what would come before lawmakers on Monday, July 13, remained unclear Friday afternoon, as legislative leaders had yet to release police reform measures or an anticipated $1.5 billion bill outlining public construction projects around the state. Walz, Gazelka and other legislators this week told reporters they were optimistic that the Legislature could move key priorities.
“Our state had a trying few months, and we need the Legislature to rise to the occasion and get things done to help Minnesotans rebuild and recover," Walz said in a news release. "Give me a bill to sign on police accountability and reform and let’s work together to build a stronger, more equitable economy by investing in local jobs and projects across the state.”
Members of the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus earlier in the week said they weren't optimistic a deal on police accountability could be struck as few legislators of color had been consulted about the Senate's plan.
“We’re asking the Senate, please stop taking our lives for granted, stop trying to make us invisible. Lives are more important than property,” Rep. Rena Moran, D-St. Paul, said at a Tuesday news conference, referencing a set of Senate hearings focused on the destruction of businesses and property that followed Floyd's death. “The Senate GOP needs to show Minnesotans that we all need to be accountable for bad behavior and that includes police officers who are sworn to serve and protect.”
Moran and others said they would hold up a public projects bill and other legislative priorities at the Capitol unless Republicans that control the Senate agreed to more of their police accountability plans.
Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities President Audrey Nelsen on Friday urged lawmakers to pass a bonding bill to offset the impact of the pandemic and civil unrest to cities, counties and other local governments.
“Minnesotans are desperate for our lawmakers to prove that they can work together for the good of our state," Nelsen said. "Communities across the state have had to delay critical infrastructure projects because legislators have been unable to work together. We’ve waited long enough.”