Other’s opinion: Special session shouldn’t be wasted

Published 7:01 am Saturday, June 13, 2020

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Star Tribune

Minnesota lawmakers are getting a rare opportunity for a do-over, starting Friday. They should make the most of it.

After a disappointing session that was partly derailed by the pandemic, Gov. Tim Walz is calling legislators back to St. Paul. In a break from recent past practice, there is no pre-negotiated agenda nor a set end date. Instead, Walz is laying out an ambitious agenda that features police reform, bonding, rebuilding areas damaged by violent protests, and addressing economic and educational inequities.

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It’s unlikely all of those will get done, but legislators would be remiss if they did not tackle most of those issues and seriously commit to the rest. The top of that list must be police reform, and they should not leave until that work is done.

Meaningful, statewide reform of policing need not require endless analysis. Most of the solutions have been long-studied, as the Star Tribune Editorial Board pointed out Thursday. Deliberation is worthwhile, but too often it can become weaponized as a means to obstruction. New York state, for one, has shown it is possible to move with alacrity. Two weeks after the civil unrest that was sparked by George Floyd’s public murder and quickly spread across the country, New York legislators met with their governor over the weekend and by Wednesday passed a comprehensive set of reforms.

They know it is only a beginning. New York Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins acknowledged as much during the final vote: “Make no mistake, we know that what we did is not a cure.” But, she said, “It begins to root out injustice and to bring justice to our justice system. It is a step and it is a path to equality.”

Legislators here will differ on what that path should look like, but they must find a way to bridge those differences. This is a statewide issue of urgent importance. Cities, counties and officers alike need help if they are to combat entrenched interests led by the likes of Minneapolis police union leader Bob Kroll.

There are good officers out there watching their profession besmirched by those who refuse accountability. We applaud the courage of those Minneapolis police officers who broke ranks on Wednesday with a signed letter condemning former officer Derek Chauvin, now accused of Floyd’s murder. Chauvin, they said, stripped Floyd of his dignity and life. “This is not who we are,” they wrote. “We stand ready to listen and embrace the calls for change, reform and rebuilding.”

There is much more to be done in a special session. The state remains in the grip of a pandemic. Walz is seeking an extension of emergency powers that assures continued emergency aid from the federal government, speedy procurement and protections against eviction for those affected. Republicans attempting to characterize this as a power grab should instead offer their plans for dealing with such issues.

The bonding bill, a victim of regular session gridlock, is needed now more than ever as the state grapples with a recession and double-digit unemployment. Legislators have a second chance to show themselves equal to the moment, capable of bold action that tackles this state’s biggest problems.

They shouldn’t waste the opportunity.