The Potluck

GOP Senate majority leader cancels plans for stand-alone hearing on police accountability

By: - April 23, 2021 2:47 pm

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake. Photo by Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer.

Senate Republicans have cancelled plans to hold a stand-alone hearing on police accountability measures, the Republican Senate majority leader announced Thursday. 

In the wake of the Brooklyn Center police killing of Daunte Wright, Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, last week said he was “committed” to holding hearings.

“We’re committed to having hearings,” he said on April 13. “I’m promising to listen to see if something is warranted.”

Gazelka said the debate on any new police accountability measures would instead take place in conference committee, which is the legislative term for a panel of members of both the House and Senate, who meet to iron out differences between bills that pass each chamber. 

The House approved its public safety budget bill early Thursday morning. 

Gazelka said there is limited time to bridge the gaps between the two budget bills.

The House public safety budget bill also included a number of measures intended to change improve police accountability, including a ban on pretextual traffic stops, which is when officers pull over a motorist over a minor traffic or equipment violation. Wright was stopped for driving with expired tabs, while Philando Castile, who was killed by a St. Anthony police officer in 2016, was stopped for driving with a broken tail light. 

The House public safety budget bill includes a number of  other changes, including civilian oversight boards, body camera footage access for families, studying officer civil liability, and an early warning system to spot problem officers. 

The conference committee process tends to be less transparent, negotiations usually take place behind closed doors, with top leadership at times weighing in to break logjams. 

“Sen. Gazelka has now walked back on his promise to our citizens,” said state Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, the minority lead on the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. 

“Pushing the issue into a conference committee is a cop out: it will have limited participation and essentially cuts out a large contingent of senators who deserve to be heard on these issues,” Latz said. “Nevertheless, I continue to be ready to do the work we are elected to do and will do so in the conference committee as well.”

State Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, expressed disappointment in the development.

“I wish I could say that I am surprised. Senator Gazelka has proven time and again that he doesn’t believe Black lives matter,” Frazier said in a text message. “He watered down the police reform package last year, and it looks like he will do everything in his power to make sure he can uphold the system as is during this legislative session. The world is still watching Minnesota and how we respond to these murders by our police. My POCI caucus colleagues and I are ready to meet this moment, and I hope Senator Gazelka finds it within himself to do what is best for Minnesota.”

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