When Gov. Tim Walz unveiled a $35 million plan in late January to help pay costs for security around the March 8 trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, the governor asked state lawmakers to swiftly adopt it so law enforcement could prepare for what might be a tumultuous period.
Weeks later, as Chauvin’s second-degree murder trial in the killing of George Floyd inches closer, legislators remain fractured over not only over who should pay for security help, but what exactly the state’s role should be in handling protests and civil unrest.
The Minnesota Senate, which is controlled by Republicans, passed a bill Monday over Democratic objections that would take local government aid from Minneapolis to reimburse any unpaid bills for outside police officers who respond to help the city.
Also on Monday, DFLers, who have a majority in the state House, had planned to approve a bill that is similar to Walz’s proposal but would also have set model policies for police responding to protests and crowds. But Democrats abruptly canceled a vote after party leaders realized they didn’t have enough votes to pass it.
Even as top lawmakers pledge to negotiate for a compromise, the episodes reflect a Legislature engulfed in debates not just over a logistics issue tied to security, but over broader, thornier political fights: about police funding in Minneapolis and the deep divisions between the state’s rural and urban areas.
A fight over police. But also over tax bases. And political constituencies.
Walz’s plan is for state taxpayers to share the cost for local governments around Minnesota to send police into Minneapolis — potentially for weeks — to help tamp down any violence or crime tied to the Chauvin trial. The state plans to send in state troopers and other state police, but they also need local law enforcement to pitch in to help escort the National Guard.
At least some of those local police have said they’re hesitant to help without a promise of reimbursement. Some had unpaid bills from the riots in late May, while others’ reluctance comes from what they say is Minneapolis leaders’ demonization of police.
The Senate Republican plan would instead take money from a city’s share of local government aid — money distributed by the state to local governments each year to pay for basic government services — to repay any bills for mutual aid left unresolved.
Minneapolis spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie said the city has received three invoices for mutual aid costs from May and June. Minneapolis reimbursed a July 10 request from the city of Ramsey for $12,452 in expenses, which included staff time but also costs like mileage, Gatorades, snacks and even a Taco Bell order. Blaine asked Minneapolis on July 7 to pay $137,356 in expenses, but McKenzie said Minneapolis is reviewing the invoice and waiting for clarifications on some issues from Blaine.
Anoka County sent a $396,786 bill to Minneapolis on Feb. 2 — eight months after the riots — as the legislative debate over Walz’s trial security plan was heating up. The invoice includes the cost of everything from patrol staff ($328,617) to computer and paper supplies ($599). McKenzie said state law requires such claims to come within 90 days, and Minneapolis is waiting for clarifications from Anoka County on the bill, too.
County sheriff’s spokeswoman Tierney Peters said in an email that they compiled a list of expenses “once we heard that Minneapolis was going to reimburse assisting agencies” and said Anoka County plans to discuss details still with the city.
Still, McKenzie said the bills were unusual. “The spirit of mutual aid means that jurisdictions do not bill one another,” she said in an email. “For instance, the City will not be billing Buffalo for assistance first responders provided this week.”
Republican legislators say their measure accomplishes the same goal that Walz’s plan would: ensuring police outside Minneapolis respond to help the city because they have an assurance of reimbursement. But instead of taking money for those costs from the state, it would pin the bill on any city that fails to reimburse other departments as required under law or in local mutual aid agreements. While reimbursement requests for mutual aid may not be the norm, responding in May required an unusually large amount of staff and time for many departments and the March trial is expected to be similar.
“It’s just a bill that says who is going to pay the bill,” said Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, who sponsored the legislation.
At the same time, Republicans made clear their measure was squarely focused on Minneapolis and borne of frustration with a pledge by a majority of city council members to ‘dismantle’ the Minneapolis Police Department and the council’s subsequent decision to cut $8 million from the department’s budget amid citywide cost-cutting during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said Minneapolis’ recent move to spend $6.4 million to hire more police was a step in the right direction, but maintained the city should have hired more officers previously. The department is currently authorized to have 888 officers. And though the city council has maintained that target, the city says it is short hundreds of cops who have either left the department permanently or are not available due to issues like PTSD.
“Cutting $8 million out of their budget and then wanting people to come back and help pay that, that’s the underlying issue,” Gazelka said on the Senate floor.
Senate DFLers noted the Coalition of Greater Minnesota Cities, which represents local governments outside the metro, opposed the GOP approach and said stripping cities or counties of local aid would make mutual aid transactional instead of based on goodwill.
DFLers also painted the GOP bill as a political attack on Minneapolis — an attempt to leave city residents high and dry in a time of need to appease a political base in Greater Minnesota, where Republicans have made electoral gains in recent years.
Sen. Omar Fateh, a DFLer who represents the neighborhoods in South Minneapolis where rioting shook the city, said the GOP bill amounted to “kicking people when they’re down.” Another Minneapolis DFLer, Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, said Minneapolis is the “economic engine of this state,” powering state tax collections that are redistributed around Minnesota with the city’s growing population.
In other words, the city pays its fair share, Torres Ray argued, regardless if other police departments don’t get reimbursed for mutual aid. “People want to come and live in Minneapolis,” she said. “We have a tax base that supports rural Minnesota because your communities are declining. You do not have a tax base as big as mine.”
Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, a Republican from Big Lake, responded that the Twin Cities are reliant on greater Minnesota in many ways, too. “It is rural Minnesota that feeds the state of Minnesota,” she said. “Their farming, their grains, the husbandry, fruits and vegetables, wind power, solar power, many things to the benefit of the entire state of Minnesota.”
But the GOP plan was about more than dealing with who should pay for trial security, Republican Sen. Torrey Westrom of Elbow Lake said on the Senate floor: It was in part an effort to force change to liberal city policies regarding policing. He urged lawmakers to tell Minneapolis residents that their city is dangerous because of police shortages caused by cuts and a “toxic environment.”
“They have an opportunity to speak to their local leaders to change the trajectory they’re on, of not defunding the police and then expecting all the neighbors to come in and back them up,” he said. “So that’s what we tell the constituents of Minneapolis: Go to your local leaders and ask them for public safety.”
The Senate approved the GOP-led bill on a 35-32 vote that was largely along party lines. Independent Sen. Tom Bakk of Cook voted against the measure, while Independent David Tomassoni of Chisholm voted for it.
DFL plan falls apart
Late on Monday, House Democrats teed up a vote on their version of Walz’s proposal, which includes the $35 million but also would take other steps to regulate police activity, such as directing the state’s licensing board for police to create a set of model policies for law enforcement handling crowd control. The measure was in response to Democrats who saw the police response to protests as overly aggressive and at times needlessly violent.
But after introducing the measure, DFL leaders pulled the bill before a vote. House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said on the floor the move was because Republicans had “demonized” Minneapolis residents in the Senate and were pushing a bill he said ensured legislators couldn’t have a “reasonable conversation” about compromise.
Shortly after, however, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, told reporters that her party couldn’t get any GOP votes for the bill, and, perhaps more notably, didn’t have enough Democrats who supported it either. House Democrats hold a 70-64 majority in the chamber.
Some more conservative Democrats from outstate Minnesota have appeared skeptical of the bill, but they were not the only ones with concerns about the legislation. Rep. Carlos Mariani, who chairs the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee, said some progressive DFLers believe the bill didn’t go far enough to change how police can respond to protests.
The DFL had planned to strip some of the proposed police regulations in a push to win enough votes in the House. Still, Hortman said Democrats believe they can’t give more money for police while not implementing new measures aimed at police accountability, especially when Chauvin is facing a murder charge for kneeling on Floyd’s neck while Floyd cried out for help. “That would ignore the reality of why we are where we are,” Hortman said.
House Republicans, for their part, pitched a bill similar to Walz’s original $35 million plan that didn’t include Mariani’s other policing standards measures but also didn’t force Minneapolis to pay mutual aid costs. Gazelka said he wouldn’t support a bill with the added police regulations in the Senate because he said it would make responding to riots tougher for law enforcement.
Hortman told reporters she has been talking in private with Gazelka and said lawmakers need to “be a little bit creative” to find something the House and Senate can agree to. Both Gazelka and Hortman stressed they expect police to be available to help if needed around the Chauvin trial, it’s just a matter of finding a way to pay them.
“I am committed to funding what it takes at a state level to keep Minnesotans safe during the upcoming Floyd trials,” Gazelka said in a statement.
In his own written statement, Walz said the state has been planning for the trial for months, and will adjust its plans if the Legislature doesn’t approve any money. Still, he said a failure to act would “make it more difficult to protect people, property, First Amendment rights and the National Guard.”