A Minneapolis police officer unrolls caution tape at a crime scene on June 16, 2020 in Minneapolis. Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images.
The Republican-controlled state Senate on Monday approved a $200 million public safety and judiciary budget bill that creates harsher penalties for carjackers, institutes new mandates on judges and prosecutors for sentencing and prosecution decisions, and weighs in on sentencing guidelines.
The bill passed with a bipartisan majority but won’t become law without the assent of the Democratic-controlled House and signature of DFL Gov. Tim Walz.
The GOP-led bill contains a series of policy changes that Republicans say are a response to the rise in violent crime in the Twin Cities metro. The bill establishes carjacking as a specific crime, creates a new organized retail theft crime and requires people who are imprisoned to serve more of their sentence.
“This bill is tough on crime,” said Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona.
The vote was 48-19, with a number of DFL lawmakers voting in favor.
DFL lawmakers criticized the bill as draconian and not focused on crime prevention programs.
Republican lawmakers say judges and prosecutors are abusing their discretion in sentencing and prosecutions. If signed into law, judges and local prosecutors would need to publicly publish information about sentences that are stayed, or instances in which a prosecutor drops charges.
State Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, has been critical of judges and local prosecutors who he says have been too lenient on criminal offenders, encouraging recidivism.
“This is not the time to build huge bureaucracies. This is a time to react to the criminal threat that is endangering our innocent citizens,” Limmer said.
The supplemental budget bill also funds a number of programs, including ShotSpotter technology in Ramsey County to alert police about gunfire and a pilot program to test drivers for inebriation using oral fluids. The bill eliminates fees for online state court records.
“It’s clear that today’s legislation was about garnering headlines and political campaigning, not on proven solutions to prevent and reduce crime,” Senate Minority Leader Melisa López Franzen, DFL-Edina, said in a statement. “Despite the claim that public safety is their top priority, Senate Republicans have chosen to ignore proven strategies that take a comprehensive approach to reducing crime.”
The Senate legislation foregoes a number of DFL priorities that included funding so-called violence interrupter groups to limit cycles of violence. House Democrats’ public safety bill also funds grants intended to spur innovative approaches to policing.
The Legislature adjourns May 23.
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