ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Senate on a 35-32 vote on Monday, March 8, advanced a $20-million plan to reimburse local law enforcement agencies in disaster situations despite not having reached a deal with negotiators in the House of Representatives.
Republican leaders in that chamber said the Legislature needed to act quickly in putting up funds that could aid trial security in Minneapolis or other public safety concerns around the state. But the bill exempted out "civil disorder" from catastrophes eligible for state disaster funding and included other provisions that Democrats said were nonstarters.
The move to bring the bill to a floor vote came hours after initial proceedings started in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. And it came after legislative leaders met over the weekend and failed to reach an agreement that could appease both the Republican-led Senate and the DFL-led House.
The House previously took up then voted down a $35 million plan to put up reimbursement funds for public safety disasters while the Senate advanced a plan that would require cities to use their local government aid dollars to repay agencies that step in to help them if they couldn't find the money elsewhere.
“I think it’s important for Minnesota that we find a way to get an agreement. But we’re going to move forward in the Senate," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said. "This particular bill is not agreed upon because, frankly, in the House, they cannot even agree themselves because too many think we should be going the other way and defunding the police.”
Senators narrowly voted to amend a GOP proposal to increase funding for possible public safety needs from $15 million to $20 million. A panel of sheriffs and police chiefs along with the Minnesota Commissioner of Public Safety would decide if expenses qualified for the state reimbursement. The fund would close out in 2023 unless lawmakers opted to extend its use.
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During the hours-long debate, Democrats raised concerns, noting that the bill would postpone a deadline for peace officers to be trained in limiting the use of deadly force and would exclude from separate state disaster aid any public safety costs spurred by "civil disorder." On the first day of Chauvin's trial, they also raised concerns about stoking frustration in the Twin Cities.
"George Floyd was murdered in our state in south Minneapolis less than a year ago and as of now we've yet to pass any meaningful police reform that would've prevented his death," Sen. Omar Fateh, D-Minneapolis, said. "What we're doing here today is the opposite of reform. It is about doubling down on a system of occupation, coercion, control and violence that has not provided public safety or security."
Republicans, meanwhile, said the trial and other demonstrations around the state could fuel a need for extra funds to help police agencies cover the cost of paying back those called in to support them. And they said that due to COVID-19, police agencies had been delayed in training on limiting use of force and should get an extension before new requirements take effect.
"This is truly an issue of public safety and public safety not only for those innocent citizens and those businesses that lined the path of a potential problem but also for the safety of law enforcement officials who have to deal with it," the bill's author Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, said. "Today is the day we need to do what we were sent here to do: to lead, to govern and to face the issues as they face the state of Minnesota."
Preparations for the trial have continued without the designated state funding. And state and local public safety officials said police departments from around the state had signed on to assist if civil unrest materialized in Minneapolis or elsewhere.