Capitol Watch: Hamilton warned about days like these

As the lawyers in the Derek Chauvin case prepare their closing statements this weekend, legislators across the river are preparing a second round of police accountability legislation at the Capitol. It was precisely this type of issue that caused the Framers to create a House and a Senate to prevent the “passions” of the day to overwhelm the legislative process.

In many ways, the Minnesota legislature is behaving exactly as the Framers predicted. The House, elected every two years and arguably closer to the people, has been quick to react to the events of the day, both now and last summer after George Floyd’s death. The Minnesota Senate, elected every four years, has been more deliberative and thoughtful about the long-term ramifications of major changes to police policy.

Under immense political pressure last summer, months before the 2020 election with every member of the legislature on the ballot, the Senate fought off several attempts by the House and Gov. Walz to ram through a massive police reform agenda. After two special sessions, the legislature eventually passed a substantial package of reforms that was negotiated between the House, Senate, Governor and even the police lobby. Many of the provisions passed last July are still in the early stages of implementation:

  • Bans the use of chokeholds and restraint measures including tying all of a person’s limbs together behind the back or securing them in a way that results in them being transported face down in a vehicle
  • Bans the use of “warrior” style training
  • Changes to the arbitration process for police officers, including the creation of a six-person panel of experts to act as arbitrators in police misconduct cases
  • Adds training for police in crisis intervention and de-escalation, as well as training focusing on interactions with people with autism, mental illness or cultural bias
  • Changes to the POST Board including a new Ensuring Police Excellence and Improving Community Relations Advisory Council; adds a member from the public to the POST Board Complaint Investigation Committee
  • Creates a POST board database of public, anonymized peace officer data
  • Establishes an independent investigatory unit in the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension
  • Allows cities and counties to offer incentives to encourage police officers to live in the communities they serve.

The death of Daunte Wright is prompting calls for another round of police accountability from Gov. Walz and House Democrats. Walz used his first public remarks after Wright’s death to challenge the “legislature” to hold hearings and pass legislation. His not-so-subtle attempt to politicize the issue against Senate Republicans backfired when the House POCI Caucus took offense to Walz’s blanket condemnation of the legislature. They let the governor know that in the future when he politicizes a death, he needs to be more specific.

Walz’s misstep aside, House Democrats returned to form and announced they would block negotiations on the state budget until their latest demands for police accountability were passed and signed into law.

This year’s package includes a provision banning police officers with “ties” to white supremacist groups from getting licensed. This is based on a report from the Minnesota Justice Research Center that cites three instances of what they claim are examples of an “epidemic of white supremacists in police departments” in Minnesota.

  • In 2016 a Rochester police officer was accused of posting anti-muslim memes on Facebook. He was suspended for 10 days and had to undergo racial sensitivity training.
  • Two Minneapolis police officers were fired in 2014 for using racial epithets and obscenities during a confrontation with a group of black men in Green Bay, Wisconsin.
  • A Burnsville police officer resigned in 2017 after admitting he exchanged racially insensitive text messages with a high school friend.

According to House author Rep. Cedrick Fraser (DFL-New Hope), the remedy for this “epidemic of white supremacy in policing” is to allow the police licensing board to “root out individuals who would have such affiliations or beliefs.”

House Democrats used the passion of the day to quickly pass four bills through the Judiciary Committee this week, including legalizing the possession and use of recreational marijuana. Other proposals included ending qualified immunity for law enforcement officers, allowing families of victims of police violence to view body camera footage and establishing citizen oversight councils for local police departments.

There was also chatter this week about ending the practice of pulling people over for expired tabs. This idea could find support in both parties with libertarian-oriented Republicans joining forces with reform-minded liberals.

As we wrote here, it’s not clear how any of these reforms would prevent an officer from tragically mistaking their firearm for their taser, proving Madison’s point of passion over reason.

State Budget Making Progress

Despite calls for action on the budget to stop until police reform is passed, the House and Senate made significant progress on the budget this week with long floor sessions passing several of the omnibus spending bills. The House even worked on Saturday to pass their version of the Transportation bill, which is loaded with tax and free increases.

This piece originally appeared in our Capitol Watch newsletter. Click here to receive the weekly Capitol Watch newsletter.