Senate GOP pushes crime legislation that does not include gun restrictions

Published 6:50 am Thursday, March 12, 2020

By Tim Pugmire

Minnesota Senate Republicans Tuesday pushed a package of bills they say would make communities safer.

The measures would encourage Minneapolis and St. Paul to hire more police officers and add police to light rail trains but would not expand background checks for gun purchases or set up a procedure for removing guns from those deemed a threat, as House Democrats have proposed.

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“Minnesotans deserve a safe place to live, work and play anywhere in this state,” said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, the chair of the Senate judiciary committee.

A bill sponsored by Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, would require officials in Minneapolis and St. Paul to use 10 percent of their state aid payments to hire more police.

“If Minneapolis and St. Paul can not adequately protect their citizens, we’re going to help them do that,” Chamberlain said.

Republican lawmakers say their bills are a response to a recent increase in violent crime in St. Paul and Minneapolis. St. Paul saw a record 30 homicides last year, amid a drop in other violent crimes. In Minneapolis, the Star Tribune reported nearly two-thirds of the city’s 81 neighborhoods saw an increase in overall crime in 2019 from the previous four-year average.

The package includes an increased compliance requirement for protective orders, enhanced penalties for firearm transfers to known felons and more funding for Violent Crime Enforcement Teams in rural Minnesota.

That proposal to require more security cameras and police for light rail transit was sponsored by Sen. Dan Hall, R-Burnsville, as a response to a jump in crime on trains and buses.

“We believe that the No. 1 job in Minnesota is to protect our Minnesota families. That’s most important,” Hall said. “We have a public transit crisis right now. How many of us would take the transit without thinking first, how safe am I going to be on here?”

Republicans also pointed out what is not included in the package. Limmer stressed that bills allowing people to carry firearms without permits and expanded protections for gun owners who fire in self-defense were deemed as too extreme.

But Limmer added that he also considers the expanded background check and red flag measures passed last month in the DFL-controlled House as too extreme.

“We have a political reality that we have to deal with. Extreme gun and firearm issues really are not going to pass in the respective other body.”

Senate Democrats said the Republican bills fall short.

Sen. Ron Latz, DFL- St. Louis Park, said the Republican legislation would do little to reduce gun violence or save lives. He has tried unsuccessfully to move Senate versions of the bills passed by the House.

The Senate judiciary committee held a lengthy hearing Tuesday on several of the violence-prevention bills, which were consolidated into one and advanced on a unanimous vote.

Still, Latz said Senate Republicans are employing an election-year strategy after gun safety concerns helped DFL House candidates win big in suburban districts two years ago.

“They were able to push it off for many years and say ,’Well, you know you don’t have to worry about gun violence. You can talk all you want about this. It’s not an issue,’” Latz said.”Well, now it’s an issue, and they’ve got to address it. So, they’re coming up with these milquetoast bills, this window dressing to claim that they’ve addressed it.”