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Minnesota House advances police reform; unclear fate in Senate

(The Center Square) – The Minnesota House Thursday advanced police accountability reforms that might face a battle in the GOP-dominated Senate.

House File (HF) 2539 seeks to provide an alternative to warrants requiring police officers to take a person into custody if they have missed a court date for certain low-level offenses.

The bill aims to establish a “sign and release warrant,” which applies when a police officer discovers a person who has missed a court date and subsequently asks the person to sign a citation describing the need to appear in court and then let the person go.

The bill was prompted by lethal interactions with police during routine traffic stops, such as occurred with the death of Daunte Wright last month and Philando Castile in 2016.

“These are the kinds of changes we must make so that officers can focus more on emergency situations and Minnesotans of color can feel safe in their communities,” Rep. Jamie Long DFL-Mpls, said. “Our goal is to prevent another traumatic event while allowing our justice system to function appropriately.”

Police stopped 20-year-old Wright for an expired vehicle registration and subsequently discovered he had a warrant out for his arrest for a gross misdemeanor weapons charge. Police say the officer confused a taser with a firearm before she fatally shot Wright.

The bill passed 73-59 Thursday and was sent to the Senate, where there is no companion.

Under the bill, a sign and release warrant issued by a court wouldn’t authorize the person’s arrest or require them to post bail or comply with any other conditions of release.

Courts would be required to issue sign and release warrants instead of custody warrants for a specific misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor offenses, except:

  • driving while impaired;
  • violation of a domestic abuse order for protection;
  • fourth- or fifth-degree assault;
  • domestic assault;
  • fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct;
  • malicious punishment of a child;
  • neglect or endangerment of a child;
  • violation of a harassment restraining order;
  • harassment or stalking;
  • interference with an emergency call;
  • nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images; or
  • violation of a domestic abuse no-contact order.

The House version of the omnibus judiciary and public safety policy and finance bill has more than two dozen proposals on reforming police procedures, while the Senate bill has none. The Senate spokesperson hasn’t yet responded to a request from The Center Square for comment.

The House DFL offered the Republican-controlled Senate a dozen police reform proposals, including:

  • Changes to the use of no-knock warrants (HF 1762)
  • Requirement for law enforcement to provide Duty to Intercede reports to the POST Board Police (HF 464)
  • Enhancement of the police misconduct database to get bad officers off the streets earlier (HF 1374)
  • Eliminating certain statutes of limitations for peace officers (HF 717)
  • Travis’s Law, requiring 911 operators to refer calls involving a mental health crisis to mental health crisis teams when appropriate (HF 1686)
  • Sign and release warrants (HF 2593)
  • Limitation on certain traffic stops (HF 1374)


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