MINNEAPOLIS – Minnesota legislative leaders traded barbs Saturday after a special session collapsed with no deal on revamping policing following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis, a session that one group called “a train wreck.”
The two sides may be back at it in another special session next month.
The Republican-controlled Senate adjourned just after 6 a.m. Saturday, after GOP Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, of East Gull Lake, repeatedly said that Friday was his deadline for adjournment, and that lawmakers should focus on proposals both parties would support.
“I'm frustrated this morning because I thought we were actually going to do some things together,” Gazelka said before adjourning. He blamed “behind the scenes arm-twisting” from Democratic Gov. Tim Walz for ending “any hope of working together right now.”
House Speaker Melissa Hortman said majority Democrats in the Minnesota House are “ready and willing to continue working to find agreement” with Senate Republicans and Walz.
“This moment in history calls upon us to deliver transformative policy to further racial justice. There is nothing more pressing than the need to change law and policy so that it values and protects the lives of Black, Indigenous, and people of color in Minnesota,” Hortman said in a statement.
Walz said Saturday he was disappointed with the special session's failure and that his administration is planning its next steps. He said he had just read a text from the family of a person who was killed in a police shooting and it was “a primal scream for justice. Just do something. Just do the work.”
“To take your ball and go home in the middle of this. This is an embarrassment for Minnesota, too,” Walz told reporters.
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, a founding member of the legislative People of Color and Indigenous caucus, which had developed the Democratic package, said members of Minnesota's Black, Indigenous and people of color communities continually get the message that “our lives are not valuable, they are not worth investing in.”
“Just being pushed aside, and saying that the issues that you are crying out for — the issues of justice — are just not important enough for us to stick around. And that is heartbreaking to me, and unacceptable, and is frankly just an insult,” said Flanagan, a member of the White Earth Band of Ojibwe.
The Democratic-controlled House early Friday passed an extensive package of police accountability measures wrapped into one bill. It included elements of more modest policing bills that the Republican-controlled Senate passed earlier in the week, but with some additions that Republicans did not like.
Early Saturday, Democratic leaders backed away from some of their demands that Republicans opposed, including having the state attorney general prosecute all police-involved deaths and restoring voting rights for felons. But they insisted that Republican senators needed to support other major pieces, including banning “warrior-style” training for police, allowing cities to impose residency requirements on officers and creating a state community-led public safety office, the Star Tribune reported.
The special session was necessary for Walz to extend emergency powers necessary to manage the coronavirus, but Floyd's May 25 death after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for nearly eight minutes put the main focus on proposals to change policing in the state. But the two parties proved far apart on how wide-ranging those changes would be.
The two parties also remained divided on the main unfinished business of the 2020 regular session, a public construction borrowing package known as a bonding bill, which could have included money for rebuilding neighborhoods in Minneapolis and St. Paul where businesses were damaged and destroyed in the unrest that followed Floyd's killing. Other unresolved issues included a potential tax break that could have benefited businesses seeking to rebuild, and how to allocate federal coronavirus relief money to local governments from the $2.1 billion that the state received.
“The special session was a train wreck,” said Audrey Nelsen, president of the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities and a Willmar City Council member. “Between the COVID-19 pandemic, economic downturn and recent civil unrest, Minnesotans need strong state leadership at the Legislature now more than ever. Instead we got arbitrary deadlines, broken deals and partisan battles.”
Nelsen added: "“There is plenty of blame to go around for this disastrous special session. The people of Minnesota deserve better.”
Lawmakers may return in mid-July. If Walz seeks to extend his emergency powers an additional 30 days, he's required to call another special session for July 12 to let lawmakers object. House Democrats blocked a Senate GOP attempt last week to remove the governor's emergency authority.
Associated Press reporter Steve Karnowski contributed.