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Minnesota Police Reforms Stumble In Legislature


Over the weekend Minnesota lawmakers failed to pass sweeping police accountability legislation. These proposals were inspired by the death of George Floyd, and now state legislatures have adjourned a special session without passing a single proposal. Tim Pugmire of Minnesota Public Radio reports.

TIM PUGMIRE, BYLINE: A group of urban legislators, all Democrats, designed a sweeping package of nearly two dozen proposals. It included changes in deadly force standards, turning over the prosecution of all officer-involved deaths to the state attorney general, a ban on chokeholds and the elimination of so-called warrior training. Representative Carlos Mariani of St. Paul chairs the Public Safety Committee in the Democratic House. He said their plan would do more than get rid of bad apples in police departments.


CARLOS MARIANI: It's not the apples. It's the tree. And the tree doesn't have its roots only in Minneapolis. It has sprouted all across our nation.

PUGMIRE: Most of the Republicans who make up the majority in the Minnesota Senate were initially reluctant to take up the issue, but they ultimately passed a smaller set of proposals. The logjam came in trying to resolve the differences. They opposed several House provisions, including turning over cases to the attorney general. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka of East Gull Lake said he was frustrated by the pace of the negotiations.


PAUL GAZELKA: We're not days away from some of the requests that the House wanted. We are a session away.

PUGMIRE: Democrats were also frustrated. Senator Patricia Torres Ray of Minneapolis criticized Republicans for adjourning the special session before a compromise could be reached.


PATRICIA TORRES RAY: I don't believe that we've done our work. What we are doing right now is absolutely irresponsible.

PUGMIRE: Lawmakers could try again. Democratic Gov. Tim Walz is considering calling for another special session but only if they have an agreement in advance. He said residents want action on these measures.


TIM WALZ: I'm really, really worried the message this sends to all those tens of thousands of protesters who are on the streets that expected this one was going to be different.

PUGMIRE: Larry Jacobs teaches political science at the University of Minnesota. He says most Republicans were simply not as eager to tackle police accountability. He says that may play out much the same across the country.

LARRY JACOBS: There is a demand on the streets for radical change, and then you've got a political process that moves more slowly. It's more cumbersome, and it involves more voices, including those who have power to block legislation.

PUGMIRE: And it's legislation that will be needed in statehouses across the country if the reforms protesters are seeking are to become law.

For NPR News, I'm Tim Pugmire.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHILDISH GAMBINO SONG, "REDBONE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.