Senate GOP debates limited police reform measures ahead of Friday special session adjournment

    State Sen. Warren Limmer, chair of the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee, led a hearing Tuesday on a five bills to overhaul policing in Minnesota.

    Lawmakers are on divergent paths in adopting significant reform in the wake of the police killing George Floyd on May 25 in Minneapolis.

    The House DFL, led by the bicameral People of Color and Indigenous Caucus, has unveiled a lengthy list of criminal justice and police reform measures.

    But Senate Republicans, who plan to adjourn Friday, have cautioned against wide-ranging change, saying a week is not enough to fully vet measures. This has prompted criticism from civil rights groups that Republicans are not taking police brutality against Black Minnesotans seriously. 

    The Senate GOP plan, which they discussed during a Tuesday committee hearing, would add money for diversity training; expand background checks beyond just officers to all police employees; ban chokeholds and neck restraints in most instances and add a requirement to intervene and report in cases of excessive force.

    State Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, chair of the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee, said that lawmakers are limited in their ability to tackle racism through legislation.

    “I don’t believe any one single or a group of pieces of legislation is going to immediately solve racism that we have experienced or suspect,” Limmer said. “Oftentimes, as I’ve looked at the writing of legislation, I think we put an overreliance on lawmaking to cure problems. And I don’t believe that it always does.”

    Kelly McCarthy, Mendota Heights police chief and chair of the Minnesota Peace Officer Standards and Training board, testified in support of the legislation at the Senate hearing, but said the measures do not go far enough. 

    “I am very comfortable with all the police reform bills before you today, and that is how I know it’s not enough,” McCarthy said. “Now is not the time for us to be comfortable. This is the time for us to engage in the courageous, systematic changes necessary to give all Minnesotans the equality and justice they deserve.”

    Justin Terrell, executive director of the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, said the state should hold larger conversations beyond policy and examine the role Minnesota elected officials have played in perpetuating racial inequities. 

    “I invite you to a much larger conversation beyond policy about Minnesota values, and what we need to do to correct the situation we find ourselves in,” Terrell said. “Every single system in the state of Minnesota is failing black folks.”

    Jim Hillbert, ad hoc counsel for state NAACP and law professor at Mitchell Hamline, said Republican lawmakers are failing to grasp the enormity of the situation. 

    “I think you’re getting a consistent message during this hearing,” Hillbert said. “You have underestimated the level of concern in our state  and scope of the problem that we have been called here in a special session to correct.”

    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.