Second Special Session Yields Police Accountability Law but No Bonding or Tax Bills

July 21, 2020

The police accountability bill establishes an agency to investigate incidents of police use of force, restricts the use of police choke holds, expands cultural diversity training, and more.

The eight-day special session that began July 13 and ended in the early hours of July 21 focused extensively on advancing police reform measures. While a police accountability package was agreed upon and passed, other pressing issues, such as a long-awaited capital investment (bonding) bill and a tax bill, were left by the wayside.

Police reform front and center

In the wake of George Floyd’s tragic death at the hands of police officers, making meaningful changes to laws governing police conduct, training, and oversight became a focal point of the first special session that ran from June 12 to June 20. At that time, proposals that emerged from the House and Senate did not align.

The House package was very comprehensive and included measures aimed at addressing systemic racism, while the Senate bills focused on police training, officer mental health, and reporting requirements.

During the second special session, leaders worked extensively to hammer out an agreement that would both produce meaningful reform and have the political backing to pass off the floors of both bodies. In the end, the package that emerged, Second Special Session HF 1, authored by Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul) and Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove), is a balance of the House and Senate proposals.

The bill passed in the House on a vote of 102-29 and in the Senate on a vote of 60-7. Gov. Tim Walz is expected to sign it.

Provisions of the bill

The bill includes the following measures:

  • Defines “public safety peer counseling” and “critical incident stress management” and protects information shared during peer counseling and critical incident stress management settings by classifying it as private data.
  • Establishes the Independent Use of Force Investigations Unit within the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA).
  • Allows cities and counties to offer incentives to encourage a person hired as a peace officer to be a resident of the city or county.
  • Severely restricts the use of choke holds, tying all of a person’s limbs together behind the person’s back to render the person immobile, or securing a person in any way that results in transporting the person face down in a vehicle.
  • Provides that the authority to use deadly force conferred on peace officers is critical responsibility that must be exercised judiciously and with respect for human rights and dignity and for the sanctity of every human life.
  • Limits use of deadly force and prohibits use of deadly force against a person based on the danger the person poses to self.
  • Requires the chief law enforcement officer to report each incident of law enforcement use of force resulting in serious bodily injury or death to the BCA.
  • Increases the number of Peace Officer Standard and Training (POST) Board members from 15 to 17, with the two additional appointments being members of the public appointed by the governor (this increases the number of members of the public on the POST Board from two to four).
  • Prohibits law enforcement agencies from providing or funding “warrior-style” training to peace officers and prohibits officers from receiving continuing education credits or tuition reimbursement for warrior-style training.
  • Establishes the 15-member Ensuring Police Excellence and Improving Community Relations Advisory Council under the POST Board, whose purpose is to assist the board in maintaining policies and regulating peace officers in a manner that ensures the protection of civil and human rights.
  • Requires the POST Board to develop a “duty-to-intercede” model policy mandating peace officers to intercede when present and observing another peace officer using force that is clearly beyond what is objectively reasonable (this provision also contains a duty to report the incident to a supervisor).
  • Requires chief law enforcement officers to report investigation and disposition of cases involving alleged police misconduct, and creates a database for the reports.
  • Expands peace officer training in cultural diversity, mental illness, crisis intervention, and autism.
  • Modifies the arbitration for law enforcement grievances so the arbitrator would be chosen from a six-person rotation in alphabetical order, and neither the officer nor the employer could be involved in choosing the arbitrator.

Arbitration reform measure disappointing

The outcome on law enforcement arbitration reform was not what the League was working to accomplish.

The League sought inclusion of a measure that would reduce the standard of review in law enforcement grievances to a reasonable standard and also provide a process for appeals when a termination or serious discipline is overturned. Despite working with legislators on both sides of the aisle, the League’s preferred reforms were not included in the final package.

Unfinished business

The Legislature still has other issues that have not been addressed, including the following:

Bonding and taxes. The House and Senate failed to act on other major legislation, including a bonding bill, a tax bill, and a supplemental budget bill. As the special session began, a bonding agreement by the House, Senate, and governor appeared to be close on the size of a package of capital projects, including many local projects across the state.

Also contained in the bill, Second Special Session HF 3 (Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown), was a package of tax measures that included sales tax exemptions on construction material purchases for specific city projects and local government aid penalty forgiveness for the cities of Roosevelt and Seargeant.

However, with the super-majority requirement for passage of a bonding bill, the minority caucuses in the House and Senate understood they held sway over the content of the bonding bill but also over other priority issues, including the public safety reform bill and the governor’s executive authority to respond to emergencies like the current pandemic.

Early on July 21, the House brought up the bonding/tax bill, but the bill failed to receive the 81 votes necessary for passage. The House and Senate subsequently adjourned the special session.

Housing. The House bonding bill included $16 million in general obligation bonds for public housing preservation and rehabilitation, and $100 million in housing infrastructure bonds (HIBs), which are appropriations bonds that can be used to help finance specific multifamily housing development.

HF 3 also included a provision to allow HIBs to be used for the construction of multifamily rental housing for households at or below 50% of area median income and prioritized deeper affordability.

The bonding bill also included an expansion of the Workforce and Affordable Homeownership Development program to allow for the provision of loans in addition to grants. Beginning in fiscal year (FY) 2022, the bill required $4 million each year through FY 2031 to be captured from revenue derived from the mortgage registry and deed taxes to fund a new account within the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency that will support the program.

Broadband. An additional League priority that failed to be acted upon in the second special session was more funding to support distance learning and telemedicine in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. HF 12 and SF 9 included a supplemental appropriation of $10 million from the state’s share of the federal CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Fund to the Border-to-Border Broadband Development Grant program to deploy broadband infrastructure in unserved areas.

What’s next?

There is a possibility that the governor will call a third special session in August, when the Legislature could again consider bonding and tax bills. Under state law, if the Legislature is not in session and the governor acts to extend the peacetime emergency beyond 30 days, the governor must call the Legislature into special session to provide legislators an opportunity to override the peacetime emergency.