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GOP Opens Special Session Attacking Gov. Walz's Response To COVID-19, Unrest

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) --Minnesota's Republican and DFL Lawmakers are walking into this special session with different top priorities, with some calling for action on policing in the state, and others focused on reopening the state's businesses amid COVID-19.

The Minnesota House and Senate reconvened for a special session at noon.

Both sides are saying they have to pass a more than $1 billion infrastructure bonding bill. They also agree on help for small businesses. While the Senate is shutting the door on some police reform proposals, they say they are keeping the door open on others.

Gov. Tim Walz is calling for specific action on policing. Some lawmakers want Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison in charge of police use of deadly force incidents, instead of counties, which is among the more bipartisan of changes proposed as the Minnesota County Attorneys' Association supports the move. Among the other ideas to be discussed on police reform include:

-- banning police choke-holds,
-- redefining when officers can use force,
-- changes to how officers will be prosecuted if force is used excessively,
-- giving more power to the Minnesota POST board,
-- and increasing incentives for officers to live in the communities they serve.

The state's People of Color and Indigenous Caucus helped coordinate each of the potential changes, prior to the special session.

Senate Majority leader Paul Gazelka (R) has warned against moving too quickly on police accountability. Meanwhile, Democratic Gov. Tim Walz says that lawmakers will stay in session as long as they need to, but Gazelka says it's the legislature who decides how long they will go, and he wants to be done in one week.

Gazelka promised the first thing his chamber would do is vote to remove the special power Walz has had to handle the COVID-19 outbreak, and they did so Friday. But in order for that to happen the DFL-controlled House would also need to vote to strip those powers. And the House voted against stripping Gov. Walz of his emergency powers, therefore the governor's powers remain in effect.

On Friday, Walz extended the state's peacetime emergency. Walz's staff pointed out that 54 out of 55 states and territories still are under emergency declarations, and the House Speaker also praised Walz's actions.

"The governor's use of emergency powers has saved countless lives and has brought us to ICU capacity to be prepared for the surge that may be coming this summer and potentially this fall," Democratic Rep. Melissa Hortman said.

Gazelka, joined by other Republican legislators Friday morning, accused Walz's response to COVID-19 and the civil unrest of being a failure, and also attacked him after the statue of Christopher Columbus was pulled down outside of the State Capitol.

"That is now how we function. In Minnesota we follow the rule of law," Gazelka said.

Both Republicans and the DFL also said passing a bonding bill for infrastructure projects and help for small businesses hurt in the looting and by COVID-19 are also priorities for this special session.

RELATED: Walz, State Legislators Unveil Sweeping Set Of Reforms Intended To Support Racial Justice

Police reform has become a priority in Minnesota, as well as other states, following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody last month.

Widely-seen video of the 46-year-old's fatal arrest on Memorial Day has prompted a global conversation about racial justice and policing in America.

Derek Chauvin, the former Minneapolis police officer who pressed his knee into Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes, is charged with second-degree murder. Three other officers involved in the arrest are charged with aiding and abetting murder.

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