ST. PAUL — As state lawmakers begin the process of negotiating a public safety and criminal justice bill package, legislative Democrats are pushing for a system-wide overhaul of Minnesota’s policing and criminal justice system, while Republicans are shying away from transformative policies.
With Minnesota’s legislative session scheduled to wrap up in the next few weeks, state House and Senate members on Monday, May 3 convened for its first meeting. The bipartisan group of state representatives and senators will hammer out a compromise between the Republican-controlled Senate and Democratic-controlled House, to hopefully be signed by Democratic Gov. Tim Walz.
Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, chairs the Senate’s Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy committee and the bipartisan conference committee. At Monday’s hearing, he said Senate Republicans are aiming to keep the public safety omnibus’s focus “narrow,” only including spending measures and not policy proposals, like police reforms.
“It doesn’t mean we’re opposed to things. It’s just that we don’t believe in including that into a funding bill,” he said.
He went on to say that budget bills are likely to be passed on the floor, with lawmakers constitutionally required to pass the state budget every two years, so “it’s very tempting for legislators to add their initiatives onto a bill that they know will pass.”
“We have tried to be disciplined in that regard and that’s why we don’t have a lot of policies on this bill unless it triggers some type of expense and then we will consider that,” he said. “So that’s why we don’t have reform measures on this particular bill.”
Rep. Cedrick Frazier, D-New Hope, who vice-chairs the House’s public safety committee, responded saying he disagreed: “This is an omnibus bill so it includes more than just budget issues.”
“I’m hoping that the Senate won’t use the idea that because this is a budget year, that we cannot actually work on some issues that are going to make lives better for all Minnesotans,” he said. “I’m hoping that’s not going to be the case.”
Democrats and Republicans have for months been gridlocked on public safety policy, particularly police reforms. Legislators passed a slate of police reforms last summer, spurred by the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, but many Democrats and advocates said at the time that it didn’t go far enough.
Less than a year after Walz signed that bill package, 20-year-old Daunte Wright was shot dead by a police officer in Brooklyn Center, just outside of Minneapolis, in April. Since, Democrats’ calls for further reform have grown louder, with them and advocates saying that Wright’s death is an indication that last summer’s bills didn’t go far enough. Meanwhile, Republican leaders have said the state needs more time to see the long-term impacts of last year’s legislation.