Law enforcement reforms are signed into law; changes eyed

Law enforcement reforms are signed into law; changes eyed

 The Minnesota Police Accountability Act was one of the key pieces of business passed during the state’s second 2020 special legislative session. The act, signed into law July 23 by Gov. Tim Walz, provides a number of measures demanded after George Floyd was killed by Minneapolis Police. 

The measures are hailed as bringing reforms long sought by advocates including those in the mental health and autism communities. The reform package calls for mental health and crisis intervention training for law enforcement officers, bans so-called warrior training and chokeholds like the one used to kill Floyd, and requires more detailed reporting of use of force incidents. Officers are also called on to intervene when another officer uses force beyond what is reasonable. Changes are also made in arbitration rules involving police unions. 

An advisory council will be formed for the board that licenses law enforcement officers. 

“Every single person, every single Minnesotan deserves to feel safe and protected in their communities,” said Walz. “This bipartisan piece of legislation moves us toward criminal justice reform. These critical reforms are long overdue — they are meant to strengthen transparency and community oversight.” 

“George Floyd’s death brought the need for meaningful police reform into sharp focus for Minnesotans across the state,” Walz said. “After decades of advocacy by communities of color and Indigenous communities, the bipartisan passage of these measures is a critical step toward justice.” 

The bill was several weeks in the making, and failed to pass during the first legislative special session in June. Many groups, including disability advocacy groups, called for change. Floyd’s death prompted civil unrest across the nation. 

Legislators, citing the need for transformational change in how Minnesotans of color are treated, said the new measures are just a first step in terms of addressing racial equality issues. 

The measures cleared the Republican-controlled Senate on a 60-to-7 vote early July 21 before adjourning the special session. The House approved the package 102-29. 

The Autism Society of Minnesota (AuSM) celebrated on social media. “The Autism Society of Minnesota is grateful for the inclusion of mandatory four hours of autism training for all law enforcement officers in Minnesota as part of the four-year licensing cycle. The bill outlines training parameters that were created with guidance from AuSM’s own advocacy committee, and require the inclusion of autistic adults, families, autism experts and law enforcement staff in developing training curriculum. This bill will help to create a safer Minnesota for all those affected by autism.” 

AuSM was among the groups thanking the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus for their work on the legislation. 

The special session, the second of the summer, was called, to give lawmakers a chance to rescind the emergency powers Walz has used to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor must call another special session in mid-August if, as expected, he extends his emergency authority again. 

The special sessions this summer have been seen as a chance to pass other needed legislation, including a bonding bill. The bonding bill, which would fund dozens of needed capital projects around the state, has failed to win enough votes for passage. It includes improvements for state academics and hospitals, as well as accessibility improvements in a variety of facilities. 

Another disappointment this time around was the failure to again pass an emergency rate increase for the Personal Care Assistance (PCA) program. The program is crucial to helping make sure that older adults and Minnesotans with disabilities stay healthy and in their homes during COVID-19. 

Read the law enforcement reforms package and check the status of other pending bills at www.leg.state.mn.us.