DFL lawmaker in police reform talks still optimistic on chances this year

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A leading Minnesota House Democrat involved in final talks over the state's next public safety spending bill said Thursday that he still thinks a dozen police reform proposals have a chance ahead of an expected special session later this month.

"We have the language in our bills, just the importance that every department that deals with public safety, criminal justice and corrections in Minnesota ... should be about dignity and respect for all Minnesotans," said state Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, vice chair of the House's public safety committee.

A joint House-Senate working group tasked with agreeing on a new public safety spending bill before a likely June 14 overtime session are among several committees yet to produce spreadsheets detailing spending outlines, which had an initial deadline of last week.

But Frazier, who sponsored a bill to prohibit police from stopping motorists for equipment or registration violations, told a virtual panel Thursday that all 12 of the police reform proposals that DFL House leaders put forward last month could still become law this session.

Frazier pointed to the new regulations on traffic stops and no-knock warrants as well as opening up body camera footage access as among top priorities that could pass. He also identified updates to the state police licensing board's new early warning system for police accountability.

"What we know about Derek Chauvin is that he had a past and that past did not come to light for most of the public until after he murdered George Floyd," said Frazier, who said a new proposal would increase data sharing with the licensing board so that it could intervene "in real time."

Senate Republican leaders have expressed resistance to some of the proposals, such as a bill to allow communities to create citizen advisory boards to regulate law enforcement.

"I think the police know what they're doing," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, told reporters Wednesday. "I think that's really important for them to be leading that across the state."

Gazelka added that "a number of things like that, we won't do but I believe there will be things in there we can find that we agree on."

Thursday's panel discussion on the "future of public safety" included U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Minneapolis City Council President Lisa Bender, Minneapolis City Councilmember Philippe Cunningham, Brooklyn Center Mayor Mike Elliot and Svante Myrick, mayor of Ithaca, N.Y.

Last month, Brooklyn Center's city council voted 4-1 to pass a new package of sweeping police reforms that included a new city department to oversee public safety and add more independent oversight of its police department.

"I think what we see is a very strong need for us to have a regional approach to safety: All of our cities working together and also with the state to make these transformative changes that are so much needed," Elliott said Thursday.

Omar meanwhile repeated her support for the federal George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, a police reform package that President Joe Biden urged lawmakers to pass before last week's anniversary of Floyd's death.

While the Democrat-controlled House passed a sweeping set of reforms in a bill named after Floyd in March, bipartisan negotiations focused on the U.S. Senate have yet to produce a public compromise.

The issue of qualified immunity for officers has loomed large as a tension point between Republicans and Democrats. And while there has been some optimism about the potential of a deal, it's unclear what that final product would look like, or if enough GOP lawmakers would support a compromise in order to get it to Biden's desk.

"The answer can't be to give police officers more money, police departments more money, when we know that money can be used to create a better community for all of us," Omar said Thursday.

Staff writer Hunter Woodall contributed to this report.

Stephen Montemayor • 612-673-1755

Twitter: @smontemayor