Gov. Tim Walz calls on Senate GOP to give full hearing to DFL police reforms

Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday stood with DFL legislators who unveiled a police and criminal justice reform package on the eve of a special session. Photo by Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer

Gov. Tim Walz criticized the state Senate GOP for their approach to criminal justice and policing in a Tuesday news conference. 

“If this is going to be one of those deals that we’re going to put five easy ones out there, vote for it and go on home, see you later, I think they’re really misreading where the public is at on this,” Walz said.

Walz also said he would consider calling the Legislature back Saturday if the Senate adjourns — as planned — to continue debating the legislation.

During a Tuesday committee hearing, Senate Republicans proposed adding money for diversity training; expanding background checks beyond just officers to all police employees; banning chokeholds and neck restraints in most instances and adding a requirement to intervene and report in cases of excessive force. 

Their proposals also include new data reporting requirements: any use of force that leads to death or injury must be reported to the state. Another measure sponsored by former Douglas County sheriff and state Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, would guarantee confidentiality for police officers and other first responders who seek peer counseling after a so-called critical incident. 

“A statement made by a person being supported during public safety peer support activity is not admissible in any criminal, civil, or administrative proceeding,” the measure reads. 

The proposals largely ignore the recommendations of a task force that included Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington, who spent a year developing policy recommendations with Attorney General Keith Ellison and law enforcement officials. 

Republicans said Tuesday they do not support some of the measures the House DFL has put forth, including assigning responsibility to investigate police shootings to the attorney general’s office. Democrats have also included a bill to change state law to restore a felon’s voting rights after they have served their prison sentence. Currently, felons are not allowed to vote until they complete their prison sentence and parole. 

“There has been a real drag of having an honest and open debate over there,” Walz said. “The pressure from the public has at least opened some of that up, but I have to tell you that is not the fundamental change the community is asking us for.”

During a news conference ahead of a Senate floor session, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, again reiterated that his caucus intends to adjourn on Friday and urged the House DFL to pass a major public infrastructure bill, in addition to other legislation related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

State Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, chair of the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee, defended the bills he heard this week in a two-hour hearing.

Asked why GOP proposals didn’t include more accountability measures, Limmer pushed back on the question by insisting state law is already adequate in this regard. “The accountability is already in law,” he said, explaining that cities have collective bargaining agreements with police departments that they should enforce. “The question is: Why aren’t bad cops being disciplined?”

In addition to police reforms, lawmakers are also debating a major public infrastructure bill, but they remain far apart on a final deal. Walz’s administration wants the legislative approval to borrow more than $2 billion to pay for infrastructure projects, while the Senate GOP said they would agree to a bonding bill around $1.3 billion, saying the state cannot afford anything larger.

Minnesota faces a $2.4 billion budget deficit, the result of the economic recession caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.