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As Chauvin trial gets under way, lawmakers remain at odds over paying for security

Democrats who have a majority in the state House have rejected both Walz’s plan and all Republican proposals, in part because they want new regulations on police, not just money for law enforcement.

Members of the National Guard stand guard in front of the Hennepin County Government Center on March 8.
Members of the National Guard stand guard in front of the Hennepin County Government Center on March 8.
REUTERS/Leah Millis

Even as the murder trial of former officer Derek Chauvin begins in Minneapolis, amid protests, global media attention and a big police deployment, lawmakers across the Mississippi River in St. Paul still haven’t found a way to pay for a key part of the state’s security plans.

Republicans who control the state Senate approved a bill on Monday that would take $20 million from Minnesota’s general fund to pay for a large law enforcement presence, potentially for weeks, during and after the Chauvin trial in downtown Minneapolis.

The plan is much closer to a $35 million proposal made by Gov. Tim Walz in late January, and a departure from past GOP efforts to make Minneapolis shoulder all the expenses for what police refer to as mutual aid. 

But Democrats who have a majority in the state House have rejected both Walz’s plan and all Republican proposals, in part because they want new regulations on police, not just money for law enforcement.

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How Walz’s plan went bust

Walz’s idea for trial security is to use police from around the state to help patrol the Twin Cities and escort the National Guard. The forces are intended to keep any illegal activity that crops up to a minimum and prevent riots or wide-scale fires like those after police killed George Floyd last summer. 

The governor proposed drawing $35 million from the general fund to pay for mutual aid costs, such as overtime and food expenses, as a way to entice police around the state to help. Some departments reported big costs after responding in May and April, and state leaders said outside police were hesitant to step in this spring for an extended period of time.

Gov. Tim Walz
REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Gov. Tim Walz
Senate Republicans initially approved a bill that would require Minneapolis to pay mutual aid costs and would take local government aid from the city to reimburse any unpaid bills for outside police officers.

Democratic leaders, meanwhile, tried to pass a $35 million bill that would have used state money for law enforcement costs, like Walz’s plan. But it also would have made the state’s police licensing board write new guidelines by Dec. 15 for how officers handle public assemblies and required cities requesting money for mutual aid to have their response undergo an independent review. The bill failed in the House when all Republicans and several DFLers, mainly from the Twin Cities who wanted a greater focus on police regulations, voted against it.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, and House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, say they’ve been negotiating behind the scenes for weeks, but so far a compromise has yet to emerge.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka
All this has taken place as court proceedings around Chauvin’s trial have begun. Jury selection was scheduled to start Monday, though that has been delayed as prosecutors worked to add a third-degree murder charge in the case. Chauvin is already facing a second-degree murder charge.

Protesters marched peacefully in downtown Minneapolis on Monday, drawing a crowd as big as 1,000 at one point, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo told reporters. Shawn Manke, adjutant general of the Minnesota National Guard, said at a news conference that there were just under 100 National Guard troops deployed in the city and Arradondo said there were “well over” 100 local police around as well.

Even though no mutual aid fund has been approved by the Legislature, Arradondo said roughly a dozen outside law enforcement agencies have agreed to help Minneapolis if need be throughout the trial.

A new Republican bill for mutual aid

Still, Senate Republicans offered an updated bill on Monday that was more similar to Walz’s original plan. The GOP measure includes $20 million from the general fund and doesn’t involve local government aid. The bill originally was for $15 million, but Republicans amended the plan to increase the money as a result of ongoing talks with DFLers, said Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, who is the legislation’s sponsor.

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Gazelka said on the Senate floor Monday that Republicans were initially frustrated by what they saw as a lack of appreciation for police by Minneapolis leaders and by Walz’s decision to reimburse the city for some fire damage from a state disaster assistance account. That led to their first proposal tied to local government aid.

State Sen. Bill Weber
State Sen. Bill Weber
But Gazelka said Republicans do want to ensure the Twin Cities aren’t damaged during or after the trial, and said Republicans “need to lead and move forward with something that we think can work,” particularly in the absence of a new plan from House Democrats.

Weber said lawmakers could easily abandon the issue and cut campaign ads attacking the other party for not compromising. “Today is the day that we need to do what we were sent here to do: to lead, to govern and to address the issues as they face the state of Minnesota,” Weber said.

DFL opposition remains 

Democrats in the Senate found plenty to dislike about the bill, even if it was closer to Walz’s original plan.

For instance, Republicans inserted a measure to block local governments from using state money dedicated to disaster aid to repair public infrastructure damaged in a riot. The GOP says that cash should be limited to recovery from natural disasters such as floods and that lawmakers can separately approve money for problems tied to riots. Walz approved $12 million from the disaster account to help Minneapolis and Hennepin County reimburse costs tied to fire damage from May and June.

Erin Murphy
MinnPost file photo by Bill Kelley
State Sen. Erin Murphy
Sen. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said the GOP idea was a “finger in a wound” meant to punish Minneapolis for political gain.

Republicans also included legislation to delay new police use-of-force standards by six months, saying COVID-19 had made training on the issue harder to hold. Democrats argued there should not be a delay.

Legislators even split over the construction of Enbridge’s controversial Line 3 oil pipeline in northern Minnesota. Sen. Mary Kunesh, DFL-New Brighton, said she worried the mutual aid money could be used for what she would consider over-aggressive policing of protests along the route. 

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Gazelka said it’s wise to have money ready for mutual aid if there are any riots or violence tied to Line 3, pointing to massive demonstrations over the Dakota Access pipeline in North Dakota. (Enbridge does have a fund to pay local police for their work.)

More broadly, Sen. Omar Fateh, a DFLer representing the south Minneapolis district where Floyd was killed, said lawmakers should be focused on more police accountability measures on the day when Chauvin’s trial was beginning. Fateh noted top Republicans described a series of bills changing policing standards approved by the Legislature last year as a first step on the topic, but haven’t made new changes a priority since.

Omar Fateh
State Sen. Omar Fateh
Passing a police funding bill instead represents a “harmful and insulting and incendiary” decision, Fateh said. “If we were to pass legislation that would meaningfully change our system of policing and public safety we could honestly say that may have prevented the death of George Floyd and others like him in the future, we would be doing much more to keep the peace in Minneapolis than all of the law enforcement presence that Minnesota taxpayer money can buy,” Fateh said.

The Senate approved the bill on a 35-32 vote, nearly along party lines. Democratic Sen. Kent Eken of Twin Valley voted for the Republican measure, while Independent Sens. Tom Bakk of Cook and David Tomassoni of Chisholm voted against it.

“The police groups have come to us and said, ‘Look, we want to prepare, we want to do it in a way that we are ready,’” Gazelka said, adding he believes the governor will act faster to use the National Guard to prevent any problems than he did in May. “With that action, I believe no matter what the outcome of that trial is we will be ready.”