MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — The Minnesota Legislature’s deep divide over police reform is again at center stage.

During an online hearing Saturday due to the COVID-19 pandemic, DFL legislators and their witnesses called for major changes. It marks the second day of a special session, where the killing of George Floyd has moved police accountability to the front of the agenda.

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The hearing opened with the recognition of the seismic impact of Floyd’s killing, voiced by Public Safety Committee Chair Rep. Carlos Mariani.

“We meet under a more urgent charge because everything changed in the state of Minnesota, and frankly all across the nation on the evening of May 25,” Mariani said.

Veteran lawmakers, like Rep. Rena Moran, said this time is different.

“Bad cops make good cops look bad. Bad cops make the institutions look bad,” Moran said.

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The Public Safety Committee heard about specific bills that will be introduced, including changing the wording of the police use of deadly force statute, transfer of all police deadly force cases to the attorney general, a statewide ban on chokeholds, a duty to intervene regardless of rank, and residency requirement for officers.

Among those testifying was Floyd’s nephew, Cortez Rice. He and others testifying criticized the Minnesota Republican-led Senate, who wants the special session over by Friday, June 19.

“For the Senate to end this week too, that’s crazy,” Rice said. “We want to make sure this banning on the chokeholds, and … in particular the airways with knee on the neck.”

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Valerie Castile, the mother of Philando Castile, was also a part of the hearing, and said the time for talking is done.

“George’s death, murder, was the straw that broke the camel’s back. That was just a flood of emotions that had been harbored and suppressed by so many,” Castile said.

The proposals did see support from law enforcement. Dakota County Attorney Jim Backstrom says county attorneys should turn police deadly force cases over to the Minnesota attorney general.

“We have confidence in our attorney general. Our attorney general’s office works hard to do the fair and just thing in every case,” Backstrom said.

During the hearing, there was a show of support from current police chiefs. The police chief of Coon Rapids testified he wants changes that would make it easier to fire an officer. And the chief of Mendota Heights and Chief Kelly McCarthy of the Minnesota Post Board, which controls police licensing, issued apologies.

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“I would like to offer an apology to the Floyd family specifically, and to our communities of color in general, from every officer who got into this line of work for the right reasons,” McCarthy said. “I am sorry that we have refused to hear your voices, and I am sorry that we are in a system that allows for us to ignore you, and we will work very hard to change that.”

Senate Republicans are not on board with most of the proposals made at the hearing, setting up a showdown this week, where the Democrat-controlled House will likely pass the measures. It is not clear if some of the measures will even get to the Senate floor.

Esme Murphy

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