Police in schools dominates 1st day of of legislative session

T. PAUL — 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.

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 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.

“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.


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