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Minnesota Governor On Police Reform And Statewide Mask Mandate

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Tomorrow marks two months since a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd when he knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Say his name.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: George Floyd.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTER: Say his name.

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: George Floyd.

KELLY: That act sparked protests in Minneapolis that quickly gave way to global protests. Since then, lawmakers around the country and in Washington have been trying to figure out ways to reform policing. This week in the state where George Floyd took his last breath, Gov. Tim Walz signed a police reform bill into law.

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TIM WALZ: These critical reforms are long overdue. They're meant to strengthen transparency and community oversight. They ban chokeholds and warrior training and expand de-escalation training for our officers. But we understand this is only a beginning.

KELLY: And Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz joins us now to talk more about it. Governor, welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

WALZ: Thank you for having me.

KELLY: So this bill took a lot of negotiation. It looked totally stalemated at several junctures. Are you happy with where it ended up?

WALZ: I am. And I think the one thing maybe for your listeners, Minnesota is somewhat unique in this is that we - I believe we're one of only two states with a divided legislature, meaning our House is Democratically controlled. Our Senate is Republican controlled. And that in itself makes it difficult. But there was a lot of raw wounds that needed to be discussed, and I think here in Minnesota there was a lot of soul-searching of who we are as a state. I often use statistics that we finish top in personal incomes, health, education standards if you're white. We finish near the bottom if you're not. And that is a - something that for a long time went unsaid. And then we admired the problem for a while. George Floyd's death on top of Philando Castile's death and many others have forced us now to look at this differently. So...

KELLY: Yeah. This bill did pass with bipartisan support, broad bipartisan support, which is not a phrase I get to utter very often.

WALZ: No.

KELLY: But I want to let you respond to some of the outstanding criticism, specifically on the issue of holding police officers accountable. Sen. Jeff Hayden, who represents the district where police killed George Floyd, he is one of those who said he would have liked to see fundamental change. And he says this bill just doesn't have the teeth to punish police.

WALZ: Well, Jeff's not wrong, I don't think. I do disagree that - I think it's a step in the right direction in terms of, especially our POST board, which is our licensing and oversight board. You're going to have a lot more citizen involvement in that. But you're not going to get me to disagree with Jeff on that. I think there's much more we need to do. I'm not taking a victory lap on this bill. And I don't think any of the activists are. But we had Democrat and Republican police activists, we had our People of Color and Indigenous Caucus leading on this, and we had our business community. And they were all at the table, and we took a step forward - granted, not a big enough step. I hope that the results we see of this show the need that we need to go further, and we can.

KELLY: Let me turn you to the pandemic, Governor, and your mask mandate. You have issued a statewide order. People have to wear face coverings indoors in public settings. This goes into effect tomorrow. Why do this now?

WALZ: Well, I think the evidence is pretty clear. And to be candid, I would have liked to have maybe gone a little earlier. But like any of these mandates, if you can get social compliance and buy-in, it's better. Part of the reason we were a little bit later in it is that I was trying to build broader support. I guess the one thing I should look at is a Fox News poll came out last evening shows 80% support for this move in Minnesota. So hopefully the strange politics of this or the idea that this is a badge of honor, not to wear a mask, is being put to rest.

KELLY: Speaking of mandates, your use of emergency powers - mandating things like closing businesses, closing schools - has been challenged in the courts. Do these lawsuits impact your ability to manage the crisis?

WALZ: The lawsuits don't, but one of the things we saw here is that some in the legislature tied our public infrastructure bonding - our spending on roads, bridges universities - we were not able to pass that this year and - even though we have historically low interest rates - because they were insistent that I give up what 49 other governors have, is the ability to purchase masks quickly if that's what's needed using emergency powers that are crafted into our Constitution.

KELLY: You're talking about senators in the state Senate who keep - that Republicans keep voting to end your emergency powers.

WALZ: Correct.

KELLY: Do you think you've overreached in these emergency powers?

WALZ: No. No, I don't. Do I wish that there would have been more collaboration and they would have done it so I didn't have to? That I do. I think so. But no. I would argue this - if there were a concerted and coordinated federal policy, governors wouldn't need to make nearly as many of these decisions as they have to because the federal government's simply not. And I'm telling you if the president issued a mask mandate, that would sure solve a lot of it, and you would have more bipartisan buy-in. But almost every one of these decisions that we've had to make is because the federal government did not make them.

KELLY: That is Democratic Gov. Tim Walz of Minnesota. Governor, thank you very much for your time.

WALZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.