Police Accountability and Reform Likely to Dominate Public Safety Conference Committee Work

April 26, 2021

The House omnibus public safety bill contains police reforms, but the Senate bill doesn’t, so it will be up to the conference committee to bring a refined package of reforms forward for final passage.

The House and Senate have each passed their versions of the omnibus judiciary and public safety bill, the measure that contains funding and policy provisions pertaining to the state’s criminal justice system. As the bills were being debated on the floors of each body, voices inside and outside the Capitol grew louder as they called for more work on police accountability and reform.

With little time left in the regular legislative session, it appears the conference committee that will be convened to reconcile the House and Senate judiciary and public safety finance and policy bills will be the body responsible for bringing a refined package of police accountability and reform measures forward for final passage.

Existing bills differ

The House bill, which was amended into the Senate file to become the House version of SF 970, authored by Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul), was passed by the full House in the early hours of April 22 on a vote of 70-63. It incorporates dozens of provisions from police accountability and reform bills that were heard in committee throughout the session.

The Senate did not hold hearings on the police accountability and reform bills that were heard in the House. Therefore, the Senate bill, SF 970, authored by Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove), does not contain any of the related policy provisions that are contained in the House bill. The Senate measure was passed by the full Senate on April 15 on a vote of 44-23.

Adding to measures passed in 2020

Although the Legislature passed a large package of reform measures known as the “Police Accountability Act” in July 2020, many advocates did not think the reforms went far enough. This prompted the House to consider and pass a new set of measures, including:

  • Prohibiting law enforcement from stopping or detaining motor vehicle operators for certain motor vehicle equipment violations.
  • Limiting the use of no-knock search warrants to cases involving murder in the first degree, hostage taking, kidnapping, terrorism, and human trafficking.
  • Expanding the “duty to intercede” imposed on peace officers to include reporting incidents of another peace officer using excessive force.
  • Requiring the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board to develop a model policy on public assembly response, and for law enforcement agencies to adopt a public assembly response policy based on the model policy.
  • Authorizing local units of government to establish civilian oversight councils and grant a council the authority to make findings of fact and impose discipline on officers.
  • Requiring the POST Board to modify the peace officer code of conduct to prohibit peace officers from affiliating with, supporting, or advocating for white supremacist groups.
  • Calling for a study on the effects of requiring peace officers to carry professional liability insurance.

Senate majority leader delegates police reform responsibility

The Senate did not hold comparable hearings, but renewed calls for more change led to pressure on Senate leaders to do more.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) announced on the Senate floor on April 22 that, given time constraints, he does not foresee asking the Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee to hold hearings on police reform matters.

Gazelka essentially designated the yet-to-be-named Senate members of the Judiciary and Public Safety Conference Committee as those charged with considering the House provisions. He anticipates they will bring back a conference committee report that could receive a majority of votes in the full Senate.

What’s ahead?

Five Senate and five House members could be named conferees to the Judiciary and Public Safety Conference Committee as soon as April 26, and the conference committee could begin meeting soon thereafter.

The League will be closely following the work of the conference committee and will weigh in using policy positions adopted by the League’s Board of Directors as guidance.

Read more news articles