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Legislation headed to House Floor ‘takes down the temperature’ in traffic stops, sponsor says

Deadly interactions with police after traffic stops, such as the one that led to the death of Daunte Wright earlier this month, have some lawmakers wondering how to make them safer.

Rep. Jamie Long (DFL-Mpls) sponsors HF2539 that, as amended, would provide an alternative to warrants requiring police officers take a person into custody if they have ignored a summons to appear in court.

The bill would establish a “sign and release warrant” whereby a police officer, when discovering a person has missed a court date, would ask the person to sign a citation describing the need to appear in court, and then let the person go. It would not authorize the person’s arrest nor would it require them to post bail or comply with any other conditions of release.

“This takes down the temperature in the interaction with police as there is no need to take them into custody,” Long said.

By a 14-4 vote, the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee approved the bill Tuesday and sent it to the full House. There is no Senate companion.

Long said several jurisdictions in the state have taken this approach and have good rates of appearances at future court dates.

Adding to the tragedy of Wright’s death is that he didn’t know he had missed a court date, due to a summons being delivered to an incorrect address, Long said.

The bill would require courts to issue sign and release warrants instead of custody warrants for certain misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor offenses with the exception of:

  • driving while impaired;
  • violation of a domestic abuse order for protection;
  • fourth- or fifth-degree assault;
  • domestic assault;
  • fifth-degree criminal sexual conduct;
  • malicious punishment of a child;
  • neglect or endangerment of a child;
  • violation of a harassment restraining order;
  • harassment or stalking;
  • interference with an emergency call;
  • nonconsensual dissemination of private sexual images; or
  • violation of a domestic abuse no contact order.

 “This bill could have prevented Daunte Wright’s death,” said Rep. Samantha Vang (DFL-Brooklyn Center).

“This bill is common sense. It minimizes unnecessary work for police officers to expend time and resources on citizens who aren’t a public safety threat.”

Rep. Paul Novotny (R-Elk River), who retired last year after 33 years in law enforcement, supports the proposed legislation for the very reason Vang cited: it would permit police officers to focus on more important work.

“A warrant that isn’t issued is a trip [a police officer] doesn’t have to make to jail. It’s a report they don’t have to do, and it leaves them available to respond to emergency situations,” he said.

A second reason Novotny said he supports the bill is that “it’s the right thing to do.”

Rep. Brian Johnson (R-Cambridge), also a law enforcement veteran, opposes the bill for several reasons, including that it would change courtroom rules and should therefore go to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee for further testimony and debate.

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