ST. PAUL — Debates over preparations for an ex-Minneapolis police officer's trial are set to come to a head next week as the Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives take up conflicting plans to fund an enhanced police presence in the area.
State and local public safety officials have warned that Derek Chauvin's trial could draw civil unrest similar to what Minneapolis and St. Paul faced last summer following the killing of George Floyd. And they've called on lawmakers to approve a plan that could free up funds for Minneapolis to reimburse police agencies called in to assist them.
In the Minnesota House, lawmakers scheduled a Monday, Feb. 15, floor debate on a bill that would create a fund to respond to emergency situations and put $35 million in it for potential unrest. If the funds weren't needed, they could be saved and used later when Minneapolis, or any city, might require them.
Gov. Tim Walz put up the proposal and urged lawmakers to pass it by Feb. 8 so that public safety officials could have a thorough preparedness plan in place when the trial is set to start on March 8. But an amendment added by House Democrats threatened Republican support in that chamber.
House Public Safety Committee Chair Carlos Mariani, D-St. Paul, added to the bill an amendment that would task the state's Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board with developing statewide policies for how police respond to protests and demonstrations.
And law enforcement groups said they were open to discussion about reviewing those policies, but wanted to take up the issue separately. Stressing the urgency of the SAFE Account, they oppose changes to the bill's original version, worrying that amendments could slow the bill's progress through the divided Legislature.
House Republicans dubbed the amendment a deal-breaker. While Democrats have the votes to pass their bill through their own chamber, House Republicans said they want to vote yes on the bill, too — without the Mariani amendment — to send a message to the reluctant GOP-majority Senate.
Republican senators have raised concerns about creating a fund that would benefit Minneapolis when the city has cut its police budget. They put up a plan of their own that would require cities that call in mutual aid to pay back departments that help them using their local government aid funds if they don't have other money available.
"It's a good bill, it's a good way to protect other cities who will have to take money out of their funds, out of their public safety funds to protect Minneapolis when they had a contract saying they'd get paid for those funds at the same time Minneapolis is not increasing their police department," Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said.
The Senate Tax Committee on Thursday passed the bill on a voice vote with Democrats noting they preferred the governor's plan but wanted something to be in place ahead of potential riots or looting.
“It will be remembered — should this go poorly, should the events of this spring and summer and fall unfold in a way that leads to bloodshed or loss of life or danger to law enforcement — it will be remembered that in this moment we failed to move quickly in response to the governor’s very appropriate request to plan for these events,” Sen. Matt Klein, D-Mendota Heights, said.
Sen. Tom Bakk, a Cook Independent, opposed the bill, saying it could create problems in local government aid funding. The proposal will heads next to the full Senate.