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Lawmakers: Deal near on police changes

By Brian Bakst and Tim Pugmire

Top Minnesota lawmakers said they were on the cusp of a deal on police accountability measures that gained steam after the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers.

The pact, which had yet to appear in written form, could be voted on later Monday. As described by Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, it would ban chokeholds like the one used in the deadly Floyd encounter, bar warrior-style police training, revise arbitration procedures in disciplinary cases and set up an advisory board to consult with a law enforcement licensing entity.

“At this point, I would say that there is tentative agreement, but we are still working through the language,” Gazelka said. “That’s always the tricky part.”

Democratic House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler confirmed that private talks had lawmakers on the brink of a sweeping package.

“Through a tremendous amount of hard work, we are very close to an agreement,” he told fellow lawmakers Monday morning. “We are very close and we have hopes that we can actually accomplish that today.”

Without specific details presented, it is difficult to assess how much things would change.

But lawmakers had been in general agreement that Minnesota’s standard for acceptable use of police force, specifically deadly force, needed to be raised. They also wanted to create an expectation in law that fellow officers would intervene in cases of excessive force.

Meanwhile, the DFL-led House approved a resolution Monday that declares racism a public health crisis.

It came after a lengthy debate over what it would and wouldn’t do.

Democrats, including sponsoring Rep. Ruth Richardson of Mendota Heights, said it would force legislators to be more attentive in the effect of policies they pass on addressing systemic inequality.

“We cannot undo 400 years of systemic racism in a resolution or with a single special session, but this resolution goes beyond acknowledgement and calls for concrete steps to be taken,” she said.

Republican Rep. Ron Kresha of Little Falls abstained from the vote. He said it would be better if it more specifically addressed shortcomings, including disparities in education.

“This resolution is forcing an opinion based on words,” he said. “This resolution is forcing members to decide if they agree to all the words on the page rather than how to actually solve the real-world issue.”

On another major issue that has been on the agenda since the regular session, a public works bonding bill, signs of an agreement were harder to find.

A supermajority vote is needed to pass the bill, and Republicans in the House said they would continue to withhold their votes.

“There could be a variable that I do not see. But I think if a bonding bill doesn’t happen tonight, it’s not going to happen,” Gazelka said.