Community groups, including the Minnesota Justice Research Center and the African American Leadership Forum, announced the formation of the Justice for All Coalition (JFA) Monday as an effort to re-imagine public safety through legislation.
Though there’s bipartisan consensus on the need for hundreds of millions of dollars in investments to improve public safety on the local level and statewide, the debate around how that money should be spent continues with just over a month left in the legislative session.
With 15 legislative priorities on their list this year and as big omnibus bills emerge, this new coalition hopes to get more traction and get some proposals, like a ban on no-knock warrants and bail reform passed.
The coalition and their priorities
The JFA coalition is made up of more than 15 progressive organizations and community leaders including former State Rep. Carlos Mariani, St. Thomas law professor Mark Osler, the Urban League Twin Cities and the Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers, among others.
The group’s list of legislative priorities include some proposals that have been making their way through the Legislature, like clemency reform, a crime victims service fund that would give grants to victim services organizations, abolishing juvenile life without parole, and automatic expungement.
“This coalition knows that Minnesotans are done reacting to political fearmongering on public safety and are ready to embrace the proven approaches to public safety that keep us safe while affirming racial justice, civil liberties and rebuilding lives,” Mariani said. Of the proposals on their list of goals, restoring the voting rights to felons on supervisory release, passed earlier this legislative session — which coalition members say gives them hope that the passage of others on their list will follow.
Public safety funding debate
House File 25, called the Public Safety Innovation Package and authored by DFL Rep. Cedrick Frazier, is another of the JFA Coalition’s priorities. The $315 million bill would fund violent crime reduction programs, community violence prevention, and more efforts and grants for law enforcement agencies.
The bill is a bit smaller and less provision-focused than the package from Gov. Tim Walz, which amounts to $550 million for local governments. The funds would be divvied up based on the populations of cities and counties, and local officials would be able to spend the money how they see fit — whether it be to hire more cops or purchase a new fire truck, for example.
Officials representing several local entities, including Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, new Brooklyn Park Mayor Hollies Winston and new Hennepin County Sheriff Dawanna Witt, held a news conference late last week lauding the governor for his robust public safety spending proposal and calling on lawmakers in both chambers to pass it and get it to Walz’s desk.
“Our communities see the devastating impacts of violent crime every day. We’re making progress on moving the needle, but we must do more,” Winston said. “This funding will allow cities the flexibility to direct money where the greatest need is and use the practices that we already know work. We have to double down on our commitment to keeping people safe.”
DFL lawmakers in both the House and Senate have been lukewarm about the proposal, however, as they tout spending proposals that are more specific in how money is used and by whom.
Amber Jones, managing director of policy impact for the African American Leadership Forum, said she doesn’t think the proposals are at odds but that they solve different parts of the same problem: the lack of resources to maintain meaningful public safety work on the local level. Any proposal that would fund government agencies for public safety efforts should also fund community organizations in their on-the-ground efforts, she said.
“As we have seen, there has been a real strain on governments and they haven’t been able to scale back up, particularly with their police departments to meet needs,” she said. “We have seen community organizations come in and fill those needs with limited resources, and so I think it’s important to see that we need both at the table and that there’s a way to be able to reconcile that at the Legislature.”
On the other side of the aisle, Republicans have taken issue with the DFL caucus’s public safety omnibus package. During a Friday news conference, Senate GOP Public Safety lead Sen. Warren Limmer chided the policy portions of the package for being too lenient on violent offenders and not doing enough to prepare for an anticipated increase in criminal activity as the weather gets warmer.
“The new bill gives criminals what I would call a get out of jail free card,” Limmer said. “This bill is not tough on crime — it goes in the opposite direction, it’s soft crime and it does not address the violent repeat offenders with any stiffer penalties or longer sentences.”
Editor’s note: The characterization of grants given by a crime victims service fund has been updated.