Minnesota Passed Police Reform Package. Will Wisconsin?
A framed photo of George Floyd near the Capitol in Madison.(Photo © Lola Abu-Shawareb)

Reform package introduced June 19 but no indication is it going anywhere fast. 

Minnesota lawmakers have passed a comprehensive package of police reform bills, taking action to address systemic racism in policing within two months of George Floyd’s death on May 25 and the subsequent outcry for change.

An effort to do the same in Wisconsin has gone nowhere. 

“Protesters don’t want any more listening sessions. They don’t want any more commission or studies,” said Rep. Shelia Stubbs, D-Madison. “This is urgent. Police reform in Wisconsin needs to happen now.”

Rep. David Bowen, D-Milwaukee, echoed the sense of urgency. 

“We have folks that have been marching for 55 days straight demanding reform and there is no sign from the Republican side of the aisle that they are coming to the table,” Bowen told UpNorthNews Wednesday in reference to The People’s Revolution in Milwaukee. “That is what people are calling for us to do.”

On June 19, Gov. Tony Evers and Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes introduced nine bills to address police reform in Wisconsin. Included in the package are bills that would ban the use of chokeholds and no-knock search warrants by the police, two practices that have led to the deaths of unarmed Black men and women. The bill passed in Minnesota on July 21 bans these two practices.

Rep. David Bowen, D-Milwaukee, addresses members of The People’s Revolution at a celebration for 50 days of consecutive protest after the death of George Floyd. (Photo by Jonathon Sadowski)

However, the cue being given by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, who largely sets the agenda for the Republican-controlled Legislature, is to not expect lawmakers to return and debate the police reform bills until after the November election. 

“I think it is more realistic for us to look and see what the answers are and either come back right away in a special session after the election, with the potential to come back in January or February,” said Vos at a Capitol press conference June 24. “I do not want to rush to pass one bill so we can just pose for pictures without having the systemic reform that needs to happen.”

Vos did not respond to a request for a comment or any updated timeline. 

The last time the legislature met was 100 days ago on April 15. George Floyd was still alive. But since his murder by Minneapolis police on May 25, calls for police reform and defunding the police have echoed through demonstrations across the country. 

One of the bills in the package introduced by Evers and Barnes would standardize the use of force by departments across the state. Another bill would create a fund to train community members to respond to certain situations, rather than police officers. 

Another bill, authored by Stubbs, addresses racial profiling and allows people who are profiled to file a civil complaints against an individual for commiting such an action. 

Stubbs cited the incident that occurred Sunday in Madison when a white man was harassing Black artists who were creating city-commission murals as an example of when that bill could be applied. 

Randy Abendroth was terminated from his job Monday after harassing the artists creating these murals on East Wilson Street. (Photo © Andy Manis)

“The man was harassing them for simply being in his neighborhood,” she said. “They were doing nothing wrong.”

All three of those bills were introduced last session but received no interest from Republican lawmakers. 

“Mr. Floyd was a sacrificial lamb for justice. That bears a different calling, a different awakening,” Stubbs said. “Justice must happen.”

Stubbs said it is time for all members of the Legislature to meet and discuss police reform, not just members of the Black caucus. 

“It can’t just be Democrats. And it has been made clear the Black caucus is ready to be part of a special session,” Stubbs said. “It is time for a meeting with all of the legislators.” 

Bowen said “time is of the essence” in order for changes to be made to save lives. 

“People need to know our current system and its laws are inadequate,” Bowen said. “There are Black lives being lost right now. Timing is the priority so we can save lives. The sooner we have a timeline, the better.”

According to Minnesota Public Radio, other provisions of the legislation there include: 

  • Outlawing warrior training that dehumanizes people or encourages aggressive conduct.
  • Creation of a special independent unit at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for investigations of fatal police encounters.
  • More required reporting around use-of-force incidents.
  • Establishment of a new community relations advisory council to consult with the Police Officers Standards and Training Board on policy changes.
  • Training for peace officers for dealing with people with autism or in a mental health crisis. De-escalation training for situations that could turn volatile.