Security funding plan for Chauvin trial fails in Minnesota House

Former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin
A law enforcement officer goes down while opening a gate for former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin as fellow officers escorted Chauvin from the rear of the the Hennepin County Family Justice Center in Minneapolis after a hearing in September.
David Joles | Star Tribune via AP 2020

The Minnesota House rejected a bill Thursday that seeks to create a state fund to reimburse police departments from outside Minneapolis if they're called in to help prevent civil unrest around the upcoming trial of Derek Chauvin.

He is the first of four former officers charged in the death of George Floyd last year to go on trial; the others are to face their trials in August. 

The security funding measure had stalled out due to a lack of support earlier in the week, but police organizations urged lawmakers to try again. The coalition of sheriffs, police chiefs and police officer union members said the safety fund bill provided "an opportunity to work together, and policing in the coming months will be harder without its passage."

Nevertheless, the bill failed by a vote of 71-63, with seven DFLers joining all Republicans in opposition. 

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DFL Gov. Tim Walz called the vote “disappointing.”

“I asked the Legislature to help me keep Minnesotans safe. I will continue to work with law enforcement and community members to keep Minnesotans safe, but there's no doubt this disappointing vote will make our work more challenging,” he said in a statement.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Zimmerman, said DFLers should have put off a vote until a compromise was in hand. He said it’s in the interest of the state that something be passed, but he spoke against language that was added to bill earlier that sets out requirements for departments involved in “Operation Safety Net” about how police will deal with protests.

Daudt said a bill without that language would pass easily, even though many Republicans have concerns about using state money to help Minneapolis leaders protect their city after they failed to prevent rioting and looting in the aftermath of Floyd’s death.

“If they can’t step up and provide the police force necessary and the response necessary to keep their citizens safe, then we have to and we will do it. Period,” he said.

Fencing, barricades around the Hennepin County Government Center
Fencing and barricades are set up around the Hennepin County Government Center on Thursday ahead of the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.
Matt Sepic | MPR News

The bill’s sponsor, DFL Rep. Carlos Mariani of St. Paul, said opponents need to realize the undertaking is too big for one city to cover.

"There've been floating arguments around this Legislature about whatever happens in your physical backyard doesn't pertain to me and I have no responsibility to be a part of helping you with that,” he said. “I can't think of more of an anti-Minnesotan message than that."

Mariani said he understands the strong emotions around the bill and condemned some of the rhetoric he said is only inflaming the situation. He said he was trying to balance the need to preserve safety during the trials while making sure police officers were respecting the right to peaceful assembly.

“Decide wisely,” he urged in his closing remarks.

Of the DFLers against the bill, almost all of them were from Minneapolis and St. Paul. 

Rep. John Thompson, DFL-St. Paul, made sure his objection was strongly noted when he cast a verbal vote against the bill: “Absolutely not, no.”

Only Rep. Hodan Hassan, DFL-Minneapolis, spoke ahead of the vote.

“The real victims of this are the family of George Floyd, a family who lost their son, a child who lost her father,” Hassan said, “and the people of Minneapolis and St. Paul who lost their businesses and who are living in constant fear.”

DFL leaders used a procedure to allow the House to reconsider the vote later, but there's no overall agreement on what to do.  (That move changed the final vote to 72-62)

The Senate has passed a bill that would take state aid from Minneapolis if the city doesn't reimburse other departments. That's an approach Walz opposes. 

Jury selection in the trial is due to begin on March 8. The National Guard and State Patrol will be mobilized next month at state expense.