Minnesota House tables measure for $35 million fund for Chauvin trial security, dealing setback to Walz

House DFL leadership were unable to muster the votes for the governor’s proposal

By: - February 15, 2021 6:03 pm

Minneapolis Police guard the Third Precinct on May 27 during protests following the police killing of George Floyd. Photo by Max Nesterak/Minnesota Reformer.

In a major setback for DFL Gov. Tim Walz and House Democratic leadership, the Minnesota House tabled a bill on Monday to create a $35 million fund to pay for security during the high-profile murder trial of ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. 

The Legislature had been poised to debate and vote on two competing proposals on how to pay for law enforcement costs during the trial. 

Senate Republicans voted 35-to-32 on a bill cutting local government aid that would ordinarily go to Minneapolis and divert it to pay for other law enforcement agencies to help during the trial.   

Walz has proposed a $35 million plan that would use state money to reimburse other police agencies that help out in Minneapolis. The House had intended to debate their measure Monday afternoon. 

The impasse means that just weeks before the scheduled start of the trial, Walz is left without legislative backing for a plan to prevent civic unrest during the trial or in the wake of a verdict. 

The defection of some House DFL members, including some from Minneapolis, jeopardized the bill’s prospects. Other DFLers who had expressed reservations previously included rural members like Reps. Paul Marquart of Dilworth and Gene Pelowski of Winona. 

Shortly after the House came into session, House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, made a motion to table the bill. In his remarks from the floor, he blamed Senate Republicans for the passage of their bill, complicating a deal on how to pay for security.

In remarks to reporters, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, blamed her Republican colleagues. 

“The reason the bill was tabled today was because we did not have a single GOP vote,” she said. 

Pressed on whether the lack of DFL votes sank the bill Monday, she said: “That’s right and we did not have 68 votes on the DFL side.” 

Winkler bristled at the notion that Minneapolis DFL legislators were to blame:  

“A storyline that says that concerns about this bill only come from particular parts of the state or particular members of one party is not accurate,” he said. “There are concerns about this bill from all corners.”

In a Monday evening statement, a spokesman for Walz, Teddy Tschann, issued a statement similarly criticizing Senate Republicans but made no mention of opposition from DFL lawmakers.

“The state will adjust plans accordingly if the Legislature doesn’t pass this funding, but the Governor is extremely disappointed that Paul Gazelka and Senate Republicans voted to defund the police,” Tschann said. “This decision will make it more difficult to protect people, property, First Amendment rights, and the National Guard.”

Tschann later said Walz would address members of the Minnesota House Tuesday to discuss their concerns, but did not clarify how that would happen.

Rachel Aplikowski, a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, pushed back on Tschann’s statement, saying the governor “doesn’t get to re-write history.”

The Senate GOP bill, she said “will fund emergency police needs, with Republican and Independent caucus member support.”

She added: “The House DFL did not pass any bill today. This is another failed leadership test from Walz. He hasn’t earned enough support from his own party to pass his preferred bill.”

The divisions illustrated 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 — said 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, state Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, 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.

Chauvin has been charged in the May 25 death of George Floyd after bystander video captured him kneeling on Floyd’s neck for more than nine minutes.

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Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez

Ricardo Lopez was a senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.