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Minnesota lawmakers close in on public safety bill

Minnesota House Democrats and Senate Republicans have reached the framework of a deal on police reforms and other elements of the public safety bill.

ST PAUL, Minn — Legislative leaders say they've reached an agreement on most aspects of the main public safety bill, including which police accountability measures to put into state law.

Both House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said late Saturday night that only minor issues need to be ironed out, which raises hopes lawmakers will be able to avoid a July 1 state government shutdown.

"We are still resolving some minor issues, but have reached a bipartisan agreement with the Senate that both fully funds public safety and the judiciary and includes reforms to address racial disparities in the criminal justice system," Rep. Hortman said in a press statement.

"It doesn’t include some of the important police reform and accountability measures pushed by the House, but it is a step forward in delivering true public safety and justice for all Minnesotans despite divided government.”

Rep. Hortman said the deal includes the following changes:

  • Regulating the use of no-knock warrants
  • Civil asset forfeiture reforms
  • Hardel Sherrell Act - robust jail safety reform
  • Creating Office of Missing & Murdered Indigenous Women
  • Creating a task force for Missing and Murdered African American Women
  • Community grants for violence prevention, survivor support, and sex trafficking prevention
  • Fines and fees reform
  • POST Board early warning system to detect problem officers
  • Funding increases for public defenders and legal aid
  • Criminal sexual conduct reform
  • Youth Justice Office
  • Investments in cyber security and crime lab capacity
  • Travis’ Law - Requires 911 operators to refer calls involving mental health to crisis teams
  • Matthew’s Law - model policy addressing the use of confidential informants

The House Ways and Means Committee had been scheduled to walk through the details of the legislation Saturday night, but that meeting was postponed until 1:00 p.m. Sunday.

The bills dealing with police reform and justice system were inspired by the murder of George Floyd in police custody and reinforced by the more recent traffic stop death of Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center.

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The DFL-controlled House began to hold hearings on those bills when the 2021 session began in January. The GOP-controlled Senate didn't hear any of the bills during the regular session but agreed to hear testimony during informational hearings in final weeks of session.

The reforms are designed to root out officers that have a track record of brutality complaints, and to prevent the types of situations where stops for minor violations or property crimes escalate into police killing an unarmed person.

"This is a moment where we have to act," Rep. Cedrick Frazier, a New Hope Democrat, explained to reporters Wednesday.

"We cannot continue to have groups defending the status quo. The status quo has done nothing by seen a series of Black men lose their lives at the hands of law enforcement."

The reforms are designed to root out officers that have a track record of brutality complaints, and to prevent the types of situations where stops for minor violations or property crimes escalate into police killing an unarmed person.

"This is a moment where we have to act," Rep. Cedrick Frazier, a New Hope Democrat, said to reporters Wednesday.

"We cannot continue to have groups defending the status quo. The status quo has done nothing but seen a series of Black men lose their lives at the hands of law enforcement."

GOP Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and other top Republicans at the Capitol have said throughout the session they don't want to pass any bills that could make it harder for police to do their jobs.

But DFL House Speaker Hortman has repeatedly said that police reforms remain a major priority for Capitol Democrats heading into the Special Session.