MINNEAPOLIS (AP/WCCO) — With just over 24 hours left in the Special Session there is still no agreement on all major issues including police reform. In fiery news conferences Thursday, Gov. Tim Walz and the Republican Senate Majority leaders put the blame on each other for blocking legislation. And the state’s mayors and police chiefs have entered their pleas into the mix.
There is no agreement on a billion-dollar bonding bill, a tax bill, or even on how to spend $841 million in federal COVID-19 money, but what appears to be the looming possibility of failing on a package of police reforms in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing, and on the eve of Juneteenth, has both sides on edge.
At the same time, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey and Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo are calling on legislators to work to fix the state’s arbitration process for police officers, a process they called “broken.”
The announcement was made at Minneapolis City Hall Thursday afternoon, with other Minnesota mayors in attendance.
The League of Minnesota Cities and the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association also issued a joint statement also calling for reform in the arbitration process.
“As it now stands, the arbitration system undermines the ability of elected and appointed officials – including police chiefs – to make lasting departmental disciplinary or termination decisions that protect residents and help to ensure a responsible public safety environment in their own communities,” the statement said.
Earlier in the day, Walz has challenged Republican lawmakers to pass a Democratic-backed package of police accountability bills crafted following Floyd’s death.
“If destiny and history is not raining down on Minnesota today and tomorrow, I don’t know what is,” Walz said. “The image of us and the Senate walking away from systemic change on Juneteenth adds to the legacy of what the rest of the world is looking at here. It is unacceptable. … And the poetic justice and the decency of being able to sign those bills on Juneteenth to make a change in this state is pretty obvious.”
Juneteenth, which marks the end of slavery in the U.S., is Friday, June 19.
The Minnesota Senate’s GOP majority passed a limited set of measures Wednesday that the Democratic governor dismissed as “weak sauce.” He says he’ll consider this week’s special session “a total failure” if lawmakers head home without passing the policing overhaul.
Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka told reporters the governor’s comments shocked him. He said Republicans have focused on policing ideas that both sides can support instead of proposals that won’t pass, and that most Minnesotans support their local police, with exceptions in Minneapolis.
Gazelka says the session will adjourn Friday, even if the two chambers aren’t in agreement.
The Republican leader said Minnesotans are upset about the “lawlessness” during some protests over Floyd’s death and Walz’s slow response, and for allowing protesters to tear down a Christopher Columbus statue on the Capitol grounds.
Looming over everyone is the possibility of not getting anything done on reform, something Attorney General Keith Ellison, whose working group worked out proposals on police violence a year ago, says he’s seen before.
“Before George Floyd breathed his last breath, we were working a year before to prevent that tragedy from ever happening,” he said.
The People of Color and Indigenous Caucus developed the Democratic package, and caucus members joined the governor in complaining that their community was shut out of the process of drafting the Senate’s legislation. Walz said three of his cabinet members were given only three minutes each to testify at a committee hearing.
Democratic Rep. Rena Moran, of St. Paul, said she considered the GOP package an insult.
“We are in a moment in time here in Minnesota to do the right thing, to hear the voices of the people — black people, indigenous people, Asian people, Latino people, brown and black people from across the world, and white people,” she said. “This is not a black issue. This is not a people of color issue. This is a world issue.”
The 22 House proposals are wrapped into three bills on the themes of “Reclaiming Community Oversight,” “Reforming Accountability” and “Reimagining Public Safety.” It includes several proposals that Republicans have ruled out, including having the state attorney general prosecute all police-involved deaths and restoring voting rights for felons.
The Senate package consists of five modest proposals that partially overlap some House proposals, including banning the use of chokeholds and neck restraints, mandating a duty for officers to intervene and report when they witness another officer using excessive force, and providing help for officers recovering from traumatic events.
Rep. Carlos Mariani, of St Paul, who chairs the House public safety and criminal justice reform committee, said getting rid of the bad apples in policing requires Senate help to grow a healthy new tree.
“I call on them to stop ‘coming small’ to the table,” he said. “They have small stuff, it’s OK. I can do that small stuff. Most of us can do that small stuff. That’s not the issue. Stop coming in small. Let’s have the conversation about the tree. I call on the Senate to see the tree, to change the system, and to join the people who want to begin growing a healthy tree.”
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)