By Caroline Cummings

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Lawmakers acted with swift speed last year when they approved — in a bipartisan fashion — a police reform bill in wake of George Floyd’s death, which sparked an outcry that echoed around the world.

The law now bans chokeholds and “warrior-style” training, establishes a duty to intervene and report when an officer sees a colleague acting inappropriately, and creates incentives for officers to live in the communities they serve, including other provisions.  It was hailed as a productive move in the right direction by legislators on both sides of the aisle, and with advocacy groups.

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But six months after the state took that step, advocates in the community and at the state capitol say it’s time for a bigger leap towards more accountability and transparency—and that there’s much more work to do.

“I’m glad there was bipartisan support to move the legislation forward,” said Rep. Cederick Frazier (DFL-New Hope) during a House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy committee meeting. “I think this work should always be bipartisan. I’ll speak as a Black man — if I call a police officer, I should not have the concern that there may be harm done to my body or to my family.”

What comes next following last year’s bill, which Gov. Tim Walz signed into law in July, was at the center of Thursday’s committee hearing. Lawmakers didn’t take any action on any particular bills, but revisited previous work and underscored the importance of advancing further reform.

“The reality is we need to take a hard look, y’all,” said Justin Terrell, executive director of the Minnesota Justice Research Center. “We don’t have a justice system. We have a crime and punishment system.”

(credit: CBS)

Before landing on the compromise deal that ultimately became law, the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus, or POCI, put forward a bill last summer that was much broader. Advocates and community leaders said they would like to revisit some of those proposals that ultimately didn’t make the final cut

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Angela Myers, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, called for systemic changes that are anti-racist, and inclusive of Black and Brown voices and perspectives, emphasizing that problems extend beyond just Minneapolis and the Twin Cities metro-area.

“Even [the POCI caucus’s] thoughtful, moderate reforms, in a lot of ways, were rejected … straight down partisan lines,” said Myers. “Racism isn’t partisan.”

Any bill that would come from the House DFL will need the support of GOP colleagues in the Senate, and it’s unclear how the Republican-controlled chamber would embrace any more far-reaching proposals on policing.

Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove), who chairs a key committee for such policies, said in a statement to WCCO that his caucus would consider new ideas, but did not signal any specific action.

 “We made broad changes to policing this summer by bringing all sides together to reform professional policing,” Limmer said. “We are always open to new ideas that address the safety of citizens, as well as professional law enforcement officers.”

Senate Republicans on Thursday afternoon released their top priorities, and further reforms were not included on that list.

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The caucus is focused on bills that would limit Gov. Tim Walz’s emergency powers in an effort to keep businesses and schools open, balance the budget without tax hikes as a deficit looms and making housing more affordable, among others.

Caroline Cummings