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Compromise reached on school resource officers bill

Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner Bob Jacobson testifies before the House Education Policy Committee Feb. 12 about the school resource officer bill authored by Rep. Cedrick Frazier (left). (Michele Jokinen/House Information Office)

By Deena Winter, Minnesota Reformer

Republican and Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers appear to have struck a compromise on rules to govern cops’ use of force in Minnesota schools.

DFL lawmakers have been working on legislation that would scale back a law passed last session that limits how school police can physically restrain students. The provision was part of a massive 2023 education bill and passed with little notice.

But last summer, police agencies began pulling officers out of schools over concern about the new law, which bars adults — including school police — from putting students in the prone position (i.e. face down) and from using any kind of hold that inhibits a student’s ability to breathe or communicate distress, except to prevent bodily harm or death.

Law enforcement groups said the law wasn’t clear and conflicted with other laws, so they and Republicans pushed Democrats to hold a special session to “fix” the law. Democrats declined, saying they’d deal with it first thing this session.

Their proposed solution is a bill (HF3489/SF3534) that would exempt school cops from the ban on prone restraints and require them to get training beginning in mid-2025. The Minnesota Board of Peace Officer Standards and Training, or POST Board, would consult with educators and police to develop a model policy that school districts would have to adopt with the goal of minimizing the use of prone restraint.

The bill ran into opposition on both sides of the political spectrum, with some Democrats and student advocates saying the DFL shouldn’t back down, and Republicans saying the 2023 law should be repealed.

The House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee delayed a vote last week, as chief author, Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, worked on amendments with Republicans, law enforcement and others. On Thursday, the bill was amended and unanimously forwarded to the House Ways and Means Committee. A similar version was passed Wednesday by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee after a sometimes contentious hearing.

After Republicans questioned the need for limits on school resource officers, Sen. Judy Seeberger, DFL-Afton, said she has a child with special needs who was harmed by a school officer. She said the officer could have benefited from the type of training mandated in the bill. 

“To suggest we’re creating issues where they don’t exist is offensive to me and my family,” she said.

The House amendments shorten the timeline for the POST Board to develop the model policy, and leave the decision on whether to adopt it up to local school officials. This was a key sticking point for law enforcement groups, who feared the model policy could just ban restraints again in 2025, after the November election.

Rep. Jeff Witte, R-Lakeville, a retired police officer who worked in schools, got the bill  amended to say officers would still have discretion to protect the health, safety and general welfare of the public. He said law enforcement accepted it as a compromise. He also got another amendment passed that doesn’t mandate school officers’ duties.

Witte called it a bipartisan solution, saying, “I’m excited to get our SROs back in the schools.”

Frazier said the bill creates an important definition of and framework for school resource officers in statute. 

Before, the state had a patchwork of rules, with some schools and police departments working with no contracts between them. The bill also requires that data be collected on the use of force in schools.

Even Rep. Paul Novotny, R-Elk River, a retired sheriff’s deputy and a staunch supporter of police, was supportive of the amended bill and thanked Frazier for his work on it.

Frazier, who said he’s been on a rollercoaster ride dealing with the bill for the past couple of weeks, said he understands why everyone is so passionate about the issue, especially after George Floyd died while being restrained in the prone position.

“We’re making strides to be a better Minnesota for everyone,” he said.

Pressed by a senator to say whether his group supported the amended bill, Jeff Potts, executive director of the Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, said he wanted more time to make sure they weren’t missing anything.

“I think we’re getting close,” he said.

The deal underscores the continued influence of the police lobby, which ran an effective campaign beginning last summer that pressured lawmakers and DFL Gov. Tim Walz to retreat from the prone restraint ban.

Minnesota Reformer is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Minnesota Reformer maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Patrick Coolican for questions: Follow Minnesota Reformer on Facebook and Twitter.