Minnesota Legislature poised to amend rule limiting law enforcement in schools

  • The Minnesota Legislature convened with a focus on fast-tracking legislation to address limitations on police powers in schools enacted last year.
  • These limitations were part of several restrictions on the use of force passed in response to George Floyd’s murder.
  • Law enforcement agencies withdrew officers from schools last fall in response to the new rules.

The Minnesota Legislature convened Monday with lawmakers fast-tracking legislation to fix a law enacted last year that limits the powers of police who work in schools to restrain disruptive students.

The change was one of several restrictions on the use of force passed in the state since the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis officer in 2020 put the state in the international spotlight over racism and policing. Several law enforcement agencies withdrew their officers from Minnesota schools last fall, calling the new rules unworkable.

The House and Senate gaveled to order around noon Monday for a 14-week session with a relatively modest agenda. They’ll take something of a breather after a momentous 2023 session that saw Democrats use their newfound full control of the statehouse to enact practically everything on their ambitious wish list. That included expanded abortion and transgender rights, paid family and medical leave, universal free school lunches, child care credits and other aid for families. The main task this year is a public infrastructure borrowing package known as a bonding bill. The session must end by May 20.

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The House scheduled the first of at least three hearings on a potential solution for the school resource officers dispute for Monday evening, with a floor vote possible as early as next week. It would try to bring clarity by developing a statewide standard for school resource officer training and develop a model policy for school districts on the proper use of force that would include minimizing the use of prone restraints and other holds that can impair breathing, while promoting conflict de-escalation.

The Minnesota State Capitol is seen on Feb. 12, 2024, in St. Paul, on the opening day of the 2024 session. The Minnesota Legislature convened on Monday with lawmakers fast-tracking legislation to fix a law enacted last year that limits the powers of police who work in schools to restrain disruptive students. (AP Photo/Steve Karnowski)

The bill also removes a requirement from last year’s law that a threat of bodily injury or death be “imminent” before a teacher or principal could use “reasonable force” on a student to prevent injury or death to a student or others.

The Democratic-controlled House voted down a procedural attempt by the Republican minority to bring the issue to the floor immediately.

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“Democrats have delayed fixing this long enough, leaving our students and school staff less safe. We cannot wait one more minute,” GOP House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, of Cold Spring, said during the debate.

The lead sponsor in the House, Democratic Rep. Cedrick Frazier, of New Hope, countered that it was more important to put the bill through the public hearing process first so that all stakeholders can weigh in.

Democratic Gov. Tim Walz, a former high school teacher, told reporters that his goal is to reach a compromise that makes sure that school resource officers and teachers have a clear understanding of what they can do in situations where students need to be restrained, so that all sides can be confident going forward.

A Senate committee is expected to take its first look at the legislation Wednesday. Democratic Majority Leader Erin Murphy, of St. Paul, said she expects the bill to reach the Senate floor in the next two or three weeks.

Advocates for people with disabilities and mental illness expressed concerns about the possible lessening of protections for vulnerable students, while law enforcement groups called for modifications to shield police departments more explicitly from civil liability.

Before lawmakers convened, Democratic Sen. Mary Kunesh, of New Brighton, led chants of “E-R-A! E-R-A!” as hundreds of people holding green signs rallied in the Capitol rotunda for a top Democratic priority for the session, an Equal Rights Amendment to the Minnesota Constitution.

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The amendment would ban gender discrimination and add permanent constitutional protections for abortion rights, as well as for gender identity and expression. The 2023 session removed nearly all restrictions on abortion from Minnesota law. Supporters want to ensure that no future session could restore them. The amendment would go on the 2026 ballot so that supporters have more time to campaign for it.

Republican Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, of East Grand Forks, accused Democrats of “playing political games” by waiting two years instead of letting voters decide in November. He said the amendment contains “extreme language” on abortion and other social issues.

Supporters of making Minnesota a “sanctuary state” for immigrants without permanent legal status rallied outside the Capitol in support of a bill that would bar state and local governments from sharing data or collaborating with federal authorities on civil immigration enforcement. The narrow Democratic majorities in the House and Senate are divided on the issue, and House Speaker Melissa Hortman, of Brooklyn Park, told reporters she didn’t think there are enough votes to pass it.

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