ST. PAUL — Lawmakers are going back to the drawing board after political disagreements snuffed out a law enforcement-backed proposal to help keep the peace in the Twin Cities during the trial of ex-Minneapolis Police officer Derek Chauvin next month.
With Chauvin's trial set to begin on March 8, officials said they were preparing for civil unrest comparable to last summer's in the wake of George Floyd's killing. And they said time is of the essence for officials to solidify a public safety plan for the Metro.
The Republican-controlled state Senate on Monday, Feb. 15 advanced a proposal to put Minneapolis on the hook to repay outside police departments should the city need backup using its local government aid fund — a plan deemed a nonstarter by the Democratic-controlled House. And in a twist Monday afternoon, House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley, tabled House Democrats' bill, signaling a rocky future for any bipartisan compromise on the issue.
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, said she'd again picked up talks with Senate leadership on Monday afternoon, but didn't yet have a plan that could appease both Democrats and Republicans.
"We all share a desire to do something but we have not been able to find a pathway that has bipartisan support," Hortman said. "We are going to need to be a little bit creative because clearly the Senate approach currently and the House approach currently are not able to garner support with the other side of the aisle."
After an hours-long debate starting Monday morning, the Senate passed its bill on a 35-32 vote, sending it to the House of Representatives for consideration, where it is unlikely to find support. All Republicans in the Senate along with one Independent voted for the plan while Democrats and one Independent opposed it, saying it would cause additional financial hardship for Minneapolis.
Minutes after the Senate cast its vote, the House gaveled in, with many expecting it would pass its own proposal until Winkler pulled it before a debate even began. He blamed the Senate, saying it was impossible to "meet halfway" with colleagues who "engaged in a cynical and immoral political game, playing with people’s lives" with their earlier vote.
In a follow-up news conference, however, Hortman elaborated, saying the House in fact didn't have the votes to pass the bill. Ahead of the scheduled debate, she said Democratic leaders consulted with GOP leaders, who told them that no Republicans planned to support the bill. Support for the bill had fractured even in the Democratic majority, with a few committing to oppose the bill, as well, according to reports earlier Monday.
"We would've needed a few Republican votes to pass the bill today," Hortman said. “We did not have 68 votes on the DFL side."
Public safety officials have spent months working on a plan ahead of potential civil unrest around next month's trial, hoping to flood the zone with law enforcement and potentially National Guardsmen to quell violence. But according to Gov. Tim Walz's administration, local law enforcement agencies throughout the state hesitated to volunteer to help Minneapolis and St. Paul, concerned for their cities' and towns' bottom lines. If they were to serve as backup, they wanted to be reimbursed, they said.
So the Democratic governor came forward with a plan this month to create a $35 million SAFE Account to help cover the cost of mutual aid agreements. While reimbursement isn't typically required in order to make a mutual aid agreement, administration officials claimed that once they told local agencies about their plan, they were more willing to offer help. By this month, the Department of Public Safety had secured close to the number of officers they wanted to hold down the Cities.
Under Walz's plan, if the full $35 million wasn't needed, it could be used later by Minneapolis or any other city, similar to the state's existing natural disaster account. It was Walz's plan, with a controversial amendment attached, that was scheduled for a vote in the House Monday before it went up in smoke.
The governor's spokesman on Monday said the state would move forward with security preparations and adjust if lawmakers couldn't reach an agreement. And he said Walz was disappointed that Senate Republicans advanced a plan to pull funds from local government aid.
"This decision will make it more difficult to protect people, property, First Amendment rights and the National Guard," Teddy Tschann said in a statement.
For weeks, Senate Republicans have gripped the state's wallet tight, hesitant to assist Minneapolis when city officials there have discussed cutting their police budget.
“I am committed to funding what it takes at a state level to keep Minnesotans safe during the upcoming Floyd trials," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said. "We are not going to bail out Minneapolis and we are not going to take House language that ties the hands of law enforcement to respond appropriately to violence and riots to keep both themselves and their communities safe."
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Senate Democrats and Sen. Tom Bakk, I-Cook, said the GOP plan was a solution in search of a problem. And they said it wouldn't help ensure that Minneapolis residents were protected against possible violence next month.
“In a time when we are devastated by two crises: COVID-19, as well as the murder of George Floyd, you are kicking people while they’re down rather than proposing meaningful action,” said Sen. Omar Fateh, D-Minneapolis. "I implore you, let's come together on public safety. Let's come up with a plan that would empower those who have the community relationships necessary to keep the peace and let's fund action to keep our streets safe."
Before their debate was tabled, the House planned to take up the $35 million plan Monday afternoon with an amendment tacked on that could threaten the support of Republicans and law enforcement groups. But according to the Minnesota Reformer, support for the bill even among Democrats fractured in the lead-up to Monday's scheduled debate.
House Public Safety Committee Chairman Carlos Mariani, D-St. Paul, last week added to the bill an amendment that would task the state's Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board with developing statewide policies for how police respond to protests and demonstrations. Law enforcement groups said they were open to the conversation but opposed changes to the bill's original version, worrying that amendments could slow the bill's progress through the divided Legislature.
House Republicans have said they want to support the SAFE Account bill but without Mariani's amendment, adding that bipartisan approval could send a message to the reluctant GOP-majority Senate. Several new amendments were set to come up on the floor Monday had the debate gone on, including one to define several extremist political groups as terrorist groups.