All eyes are on guns as the Minnesota Senate passed a public safety budget package late last week containing two major gun regulations, a “red flag” policy and expanded background check requirements on private sales. The House is expected to vote on the package on Monday, where the DFL majority has the votes to pass the spending bill and get it to Gov. Walz’ desk.
But the $880 million package features several other investments and policy provisions.
“I’m very proud of the bill that we have before us,” DFL Sen. Ron Latz of St. Louis Park, chairman of the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, said on the floor on Friday before a vote on the package. “It’s a well-balanced approach that holds criminals accountable, that protects their constitutional rights in our system of justice and takes very strong steps forward in making our communities safer.”
Republicans decried the lack of GOP lawmakers assigned to the conference committee involved in hammering out the final bill. GOP members also denounced measures in the package itself, calling it soft on violent crime, fails to support first responders and doesn’t help protect residents from crime.
“We just spent four and a half months trying to develop policies that will help this state, and this is the best that we can come up with?” said GOP Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson said on the floor before the vote on the bill. “This is a shame.”
From stiffening penalties on fentanyl and restrictions on law enforcement practices to balancing crime and restorative justice, here are some of the highlights of the package:
Lawmakers struck a deal on a provision last week that aims to sharply limit the use of of no-knock search warrants. Courts may not issue a no-knock warrant unless the law enforcement applying for the warrant can prove the search can’t be done when no one is home and that the occupants “present an imminent threat of death or great bodily harm to the officers executing the warrant or other persons.”
The controversial practice came under intense scrutiny early last year when a Minneapolis SWAT team shot and killed 22-year-old Amir Locke in his cousin’s home downtown after police entered the apartment unannounced to execute the warrant.
Advocates of allowing law enforcement to continue to use no-knock warrants contend that the tactic is an important tool for police dealing with dangerous suspects and keeps officers safe. But proponents of the ban say the practice puts officers in even more danger than is necessary.
Andre Locke, Amir’s father, testified multiple times before lawmakers this session, urging them to get rid of the tactic. Following Amir Locke’s killing, executions of no knock warrants statewide dropped but racial disparities remained despite the declined use.
A provision to stiffen penalties for fentanyl possession and distribution to align them with heroin also made it into the sweeping public safety package.
The measure adds dosage units to the statute language, which proponents and law enforcement say makes it easier for prosecutors to charge dealers with charges that stick, whereas before it required possession of immense amounts of fentanyl to be charged with distribution. First degree possession, the most serious felony drug crime in Minnesota, will now include 100 fentanyl dosage units, or pills, as a threshold.
The idea of the dosage units, advocates say, is to target those who are distributing the drug and prevent punishing those who are simply consuming the drug with jail time. It also makes it easier for law enforcement to recognize the number of doses at a glance since the drug usually comes in pill form instead of requiring them to send the drugs to a forensic lab to be tested.
White supremacist ban
The package also includes a provision that prohibits peace officers from joining, supporting, advocating for or maintaining membership of hate or extremist groups. Hate groups are defined in the statute as groups that promote the use of threats or violence to deprive people of their civil rights.
The Minnesota Peace Officer Training and Standards (POST) Board adopted the rule back in February, allowing them to take action on an officer’s license that violates that rule, as part of a group of sweeping changes to the board that licenses all of the police officers across the state. The move was seen as long overdue by many due to the danger the tactic poses to police and residents, save for some law enforcement groups that argued it should be up to local agencies to enforce such discipline
Another measure in the bill that activists have long been advocating for is the release of police body worn camera footage to the family and legal representatives of individuals killed by a police officer.
The provision requires law enforcement to take no longer than five business days to allow the loved ones and legal representatives of victims of deadly force by police to inspect the body-worn camera and dash camera footage. It also requires police to release all footage to the public within 14 days after the incident.
But it does allow the chief of police to withhold the footage if they deem it would interfere with an ongoing investigation.
Crime and restorative justice
Of the more notable crime-related provisions in the bill are the institution of new crimes of carjacking and organized retail theft, which are now enshrined in statute and have specific penalties. First-degree carjacking, which involves the use of a weapon, aligns with penalties for first-degree aggravated robbery and carries a maximum sentence of 20 years in prison or a $35,000 fine, second-degree carries a maximum of 15 years and third-degree aligns with simple robbery which is 10 years.
Organized retail theft involves a group or two or more people operating a “criminal enterprise” where they steal merchandise from stores and try to resell or return the times for profit. The maximum sentence for the crime is 15 years in prison, depending on the value of the stolen items.
There is $70 million earmarked for a violent crime reduction and clearance support account that would go toward grants for crisis response teams and prevention technology, as well as supporting reduction strategies and funding for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s use of force investigations unit.
“Criminal justice has two main components as I see it: one is holding people accountable and punishing them for the offenses that they commit,” Latz said during a news conference. “The other is that once they’re in the prison system, finding a way to rehabilitate them if we can.”
What else is in the bill
The $880 million package includes funding for a wide variety of criminal justice reform programs, including resources for reintegration programs to prevent recidivism, money for the state correctional system to expand treatment and an early release incentive credit system to encourage inmates to participate in that treatment, the last of which was a significant point of tension for GOP members.
The bill also has a piece on clemency reform, establishing a Clemency Review Commission that would research each clemency application and make recommendations to the Board of Pardons, which consists of the governor, attorney general and chief justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court.
Another provision is funding for youth intervention, including more than $3.5 million per year to the Department of Public Safety to issue grants, and funding to the Office of Justice Programs for juvenile restorative justice.