GOP-controlled Senate passes public safety bill

Published 9:08 am Tuesday, April 26, 2022

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ST. PAUL — The Republican-controlled Minnesota Senate on Monday passed a public safety omnibus bill featuring provisions that were sharply different from Democrats’ ideas on how to tackle crime, an issue certain to be key in this fall’s midterm election.

The Senate plan includes about $100 million aimed at recruiting and retaining more law enforcement officers through training, incentives and an ad campaign, as well as stiffer penalties for crimes like carjacking and limits on prosecutorial and judicial discretion.

“One of the fundamental responsibilities of government is helping keep people safe,” said GOP Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, of Winona. “This package of bills makes significant progress in that area — especially at a time when we’re hearing far too many Minnesotans who no longer feel safe in the communities that they live, work and raise a family.”

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The bill passed on a 48-19 vote after hours of debate.

It includes grants for youth intervention programs, violent crime enforcement initiatives and mental health support for first responders, among other programs. It also has a provision that would create a searchable database to track when prosecutors decide not to pursue charges and when judges go below sentencing guidelines.

House Democrats’ public safety package includes $150 million, including $50 million that would go to cities and counties with the highest or fastest-growing crime rates to use on programs of their own design. It also includes $15 million for law enforcement agencies to purchase body cameras to increase officer accountability. Democratic Gov. Tim Walz’s own proposal would give $300 million in grants directly to municipal, county and tribal governments to use as they choose for their public safety needs.

A spot of common ground appeared to be a $50 million appropriation for the state’s public defender system in both the House and Senate versions after the lawyers came close to striking in March.

Democrats in the Senate introduced their own $500 million package of bills last month aimed at reducing crime immediately, in addition to funding youth intervention and community-based crime prevention programs, though none of the bills received hearings in Republican Judiciary Chairman Sen. Warren Limmer’s committee.

Senate Minority Leader Melisa López Franzen said during the floor debate that the GOP majority’s package didn’t include enough money because of the GOP’s focus on “costly and unsustainable” tax cuts.

“At the same time that they claim there’s no more urgent problem than reducing crime, they want to spend tens of millions of dollars more in permanent tax cuts for Minnesotans earning above $250,000 per year than they want towards keeping Minnesota communities and families safe,” López Franzen said.