Police prepare to open fire with tear gas and non-lethal rounds on a group of demonstrators protesting the death of George Floyd. Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images.
DFL Gov. Tim Walz’s $35 million plan to pay for anticipated security costs in Minneapolis ahead of the trial of ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is facing resistance from an unexpected source: Minneapolis Democratic lawmakers.
The Legislature is voting on two competing proposals on Monday.
Senate Republicans on Monday voted 35-to-32 on a bill cutting local government aid that would ordinarily go to Minneapolis and using the money to pay for other law enforcement agencies to help during the murder trial of former officer Derek Chauvin.
Walz has proposed a $35 million plan that would use state money to reimburse other police agencies that help out in Minneapolis. The House will take up the measure Monday afternoon.
Lawmakers in the Minneapolis House delegation are expressing reservations about the governor’s plan, however, with as many as four planning to vote against it, according to Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, the chief sponsor.
That leads little wiggle room for House Speaker Melissa Hortman as she tries to whip at least 68 Democratic votes for the governor’s plan in the 134 member House.
The divisions illustrate the complex dynamics that threaten to shape or scuttle a potential bipartisan agreement on how the state should prepare for the high-profile murder trial, nearly a year after large protests, riots, arson and looting caused millions of dollars in damage to public and private property throughout the Twin Cities metro.
Some Minneapolis lawmakers — especially from the People of Color Indigenous Caucus — say the $35 million fund is a giveaway to law enforcement that fails to hold police accountable for what they called an overly aggressive and antagonistic response to protests last summer. Moreover, they expressed frustration over what they called an abandonment of the city during the widespread acts of arson and looting.
In an interview, Mariani confirmed the divisions among his DFL colleagues. He said he is dedicated to seeing policing reforms enacted along with the creation of the governor’s $35 million State Aid for Emergencies (“SAFE”) account.
“I don’t think there’s a single legislator who’s 100% confident about supporting the SAFE Act,” he said. But lawmakers, he said, are weighing any reservations they have against the consequences of not being prepared for the Chauvin trial.
In the Senate, state Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis, also opposes the creation of the account, saying the governor’s plan did not solicit community input.
Minneapolis lawmakers were angry at the sluggish response from Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey as the city burned in the days after Floyd’s Memorial Day killing. Walz was similarly criticized. Walz and Frey then took turns blaming each other for the widespread destruction.
The divisions promise to complicate matters for Walz and the narrow Democratic-Farmer-Labor majority in the House, now negotiating with Senate Republicans on how to prevent a repeat of last summer — and how to pay for it.
The subtext of the debate: The urban versus rural divide that has dominated the state’s politics in recent years. In the months since the civil unrest, federal law enforcement officials have charged scores of people for their roles in the destruction, including people who traveled to the Twin Cities from rural towns like Staples and Brainerd to set fire to the Minneapolis Police Department’s Third Precinct building.
Still, Republicans seized on the riots and unrest as potent campaign fodder last year. When a majority of the Minneapolis City Council pledged in June of last year to dismantle the police department, Republicans painted Minnesota Democrats as anti-police; they picked up House seats and held on to their narrow Senate majority in the election.
Their opposition to the Walz plan, Republicans say, is motivated by rhetoric from Minneapolis leaders, which they say “demonizes” law enforcement.
During a hearing on the GOP bill last week, Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said his department has struggled to provide robust policing since the George Floyd unrest. Hundreds of police officers have resigned, retired or taken medical leave. The City Council recently voted to cut $8 million from the department and diverted it to other public safety services.
Mariani said to pass the bill, he is prepared to remove one of three reforms he had successfully grafted on to the bill during the committee process.
To win support from police chiefs, Mariani said he will propose removing language that would hold individual police officers accountable if they violate department policies governing how they respond to large-scale demonstrations.
Other reforms would remain, including the requirement that police departments have a policy on best practices during large events, as well as another mandating a post-event review of the police response.
Mariani said those measures would help protect protesters’ right to peacefully assemble, as well as provide transparency.
Still, he worries about what happens when his legislation moves into the hands of legislative leaders once the bill passes the House.
It’s possible Mariani’s reforms are stripped away entirely to win over Senate Republicans and assure passage of Walz’s $35 million SAFE Account.
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