ST. PAUL -- Gov. Tim Walz’s $35 million proposal to boost law enforcement presence in anticipation of further potential civil unrest next month is facing resistance from Republican lawmakers.
In just over a month, ex-Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin is set to face trial for his alleged role in the death of George Floyd last summer. The death of Floyd, a Black man, at the hands of Chauvin, who is white, set off a string of protests across Minnesota, the nation and world, some of which turned violent, particularly in the Twin Cities.
Ahead of the trial, Walz is proposing a $35 million fund -- dubbed the SAFE Account -- to help cover the cost of mutual aid for local law enforcement, should they require backup from other departments. While Walz at a Wednesday, Feb. 3 news conference said there is a “sense of urgency” because of next month’s scheduled trial in Minneapolis, the fund is designed for use anywhere in the state in case of future extraordinary public safety events. It’s modelled off of the state’s existing natural disaster fund.
Walz said the trial “will bring the world’s attention,” ushering in international news coverage, as well as demonstrators. Some of those demonstrators, he said, will be legitimate and abiding by the law, and their First Amendment rights need to be protected. But others, he said, may seek to sow chaos.
“If we’re not able to put this account in place, it hampers (mutual aid) plans that have been made for these trials for months,” Walz said.
Dept. of Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said his department has been working for months to coordinate and recruit enough law enforcement from all over the state to assist in enforcement during next month's trial, and that he is "getting close" to securing sufficient backup. At Wednesday's news conference, he said part of the reason why he thinks more departments have agreed to serve as backup is because of the SAFE Act proposal, which he said gives them peace of mind that they won't foot the bill for helping out.
Walz’s plan faces a roadblock with the divided Legislature, whose blessing is required to pass state spending such as the SAFE Account. Republicans have dubbed the fund a “bailout” for the city of Minneapolis, which they say is ultimately responsible for its own public safety costs.
Harkening back to leftists’ calls to cut police budgets, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said Wednesday, “Actions to defund the police have consequences.”
In the Democratic-controlled House, the public safety committee on Tuesday held a hearing on the SAFE Account. Republicans decried amendments in the bill that gave broad authority to the Dept. of Public Safety to approve reimbursement costs, and ultimately labelled the bill as a “bailout” to Minneapolis. The bill ultimately passed through committee along party lines, and Republican committee members said it would be doomed in the Senate.
During a Wednesday virtual news conference, Rep. Anne Neu Brindley, R-North Branch, said $35 million won’t “magically solve the underlying problems,” which she deemed to be the “continued demonization of law enforcement," echoing a letter sent to legislators by the Minnesota Law Enforcement Coalition on Tuesday. Instead, she said the SAFE Account would “put all of Minnesota on the hook for bad decisions being made in the city of Minneapolis.”
Walz during his news conference retorted that, “At some point, we’re going to have to end this” division between metro and greater Minnesota.
“For God’s sake, we’re all Minnesotans and we’re all Americans,” he said. “Minnesotans do not want to see a squabble about this and when March 8 comes around, have uncertainty about where we’re at.”
When pressed on House Republicans’ alternative proposal to Walz’s plan, Neu Brindley contended that Walz and local law enforcement agencies are already “capable of dealing with civil unrest,” and said she is “not sure there is a reason we would need to pass legislation.”
“Frankly, we’re in the minority,” she said. “As much as I wish that we could do something, that’s actually not how the legislature works.”
On the Senate side, Gazelka vowed that his caucus will “propose an alternative” to Walz’s plan later this week “to make sure mutual aid will be reimbursed, law enforcement can respond, and without taking general fund dollars away from education, healthcare, or transportation.” Senate Republicans have not divulged further details, and Walz said Wednesday that they have not scheduled a hearing to consider his own plan.