MINNEAPOLIS — A special session of the Minnesota Legislature appeared to be in a stalemate Friday with both parties deeply divided on how far lawmakers should go toward remaking policing in the state where George Floyd was killed.
The Democratic-controlled House early Friday passed an extensive package of police accountability measures wrapped into one bill. It includes elements of five more modest policing bills that the Republican-controlled Senate passed earlier in the week but would make bigger changes than what Senate Republicans have said they’ll accept.
As lawmakers huddled behind closed doors or met on the floors to pass less-contentious legislation, around 400 demonstrators held a Juneteenth rally outside the Capitol, where they chanted Floyd’s name and called for lawmakers to pass the House bill.
GOP Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, of East Gull Lake, repeatedly has said that Friday was his deadline for adjournment and that lawmakers should focus on proposals both parties can support. But Democratic leaders from both chambers urged him at a news conference to allow more time so that both sides could seek compromises on policing and other thorny issues. He postponed indefinitely his own news conference set for Friday afternoon.
“We have to do something on police accountability and reform,” Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman, of Brooklyn Park, told reporters. “The tragic murder of George Floyd on May 25th changed the entire legislative agenda. There is no way for us to look away from this injustice, and to not do the work that thousands of Minnesotans and millions of people around the world are demanding that governments take up.”
Democratic Gov. Tim Walz said Friday night on TPT’s “Almanac” public affairs program that he remained hopeful a compromise can be reached and that negotiations were continuing.
“We have gone through some of the most tumultuous times in Minnesota’s history,” Walz said, citing the killing of Floyd and the state’s reopening from the coronavirus shutdown. “And I think there’s a desire of folks here to seize that moment and make those systemic changes.”
On Thursday, Walz challenged lawmakers to put the House bill on his desk in time to sign on Juneteenth, a holiday that has long commemorated the emancipation of enslaved Blacks but turned this year into one of protest against police brutality and racism following the killing of Floyd, an African American who died after a white Minneapolis police officer pressed a knee into his neck for several minutes.
“Today as people across the state and nation recognize and observe Juneteenth, Senate Republicans are sending a loud message by choosing to pack up and leave before we’ve finished the work that Minnesotans are expecting us to do,” Democratic Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, of Woodbury, told reporters. “Black, Indigenous, and people of color have spent years fighting for justice. We can spend a little more than a week doing the same.”
Walz, who has called for making Juneteenth a state holiday, spoke Friday with musician Pharrell Williams, who tweeted that he’s asking every governor to make it a paid holiday for state employees, and that he spoke with a number of governors Friday. “Thank you for fighting for this issue. #Juneteenth is an important part of our history, and it should be recognized and remembered by our entire state each year,” Walz wrote as he retweeted Williams’ thanks.
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 potentially include 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 benefit businesses seeking to rebuild, and how to allocate federal coronavirus relief money to local governments from the $2.1 billion the state received under the CARES Act.
If there is no agreement on the big issues, lawmakers are likely to get another chance in mid-July. Assuming Walz intends to issue another 30-day extension of the emergency powers he’s been using to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s legally required to call another special session for July 12 to let lawmakers object. That’s why he called this special session. House Democrats blocked a Senate GOP attempt last week to remove the governor’s emergency authority.