MN lawmakers OK security aid amid police conduct standoff

An armed law enforcement officer dressed in riot gear.
State troopers in riot gear line up in front of the Minnesota State Capitol on Jan. 17. An increased security presence around the presidential inauguration and the trial of Derek Chauvin let the Legislature to pass a nearly $8 million bill Tuesday to cover expenses.
Christine T. Nguyen | MPR News file

The Minnesota Legislature passed a bill Tuesday to cover overtime, lodging, meals and other costs for law enforcement personnel during the recent security buildup in the Twin Cities. 

The nearly $8 million plan would defray expenses tied to multiple security operations — the Capitol fortification during the leadup to the presidential inauguration and the expansive law enforcement presence during the Derek Chauvin murder trial.

House Public Safety Chair Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, grudgingly asked for passage of the bill, knowing that some of his Democratic colleagues were uncomfortable providing aid to law enforcement without also adopting changes to police conduct laws. They were also bothered by use of chemical irritants and other tactics to control crowds during tense moments of the mobilization.

But Mariani said preparations, including those under the Operation Safety Net banner, were unavoidable.

“For the possibility that the historic trial of a licensed police officer who murdered a Black citizen of our state could produce a righteous massive outrage as it did last year,” he said. “That could lead to public disruption that others with ill-intent could take advantage of to cause large-scale harm.”

With little discussion, the bill cleared the House on a 107-25 vote; all Republicans were in support and there was a deep split in the DFL caucus. Earlier in the day, the Republican-led Senate voted 52 to 15 to send it forward. Gov. Tim Walz said he would quickly sign the measure.

National Guard troops stand outside a building.
Members of the National Guard patrol behind a a security fence perimeter surrounding the Hennepin County Government Center, where the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin is being held, on March 31 in Minneapolis.
Kerem Yucel | AFP via Getty Images file

Most of the funding would replenish budgets for the State Patrol and Department of Natural Resources, which had large contingents on alert for civil disruptions. The Minnesota National Guard also sent in thousands of soldiers, but those costs are usually covered elsewhere in the state budget.

Another $1.5 million line item would reimburse Nebraska and Ohio for costs they incurred when they dispatched highway patrol officers to Minnesota to assist during the trial of the former Minneapolis police officer who was found guilty of murder and manslaughter for killing George Floyd.

The sequencing of the legislative action wasn’t lost on supporters of police accountability measures, such as Sen. Melisa Franzen, DFL-Edina.

“All we’re going to do is transfer money and put the issue of law enforcement under the rug,” said Franzen, who was among a group of DFL lawmakers who wrote to Walz and legislative leaders to demand that bills to change policing get immediate attention and not be used as end-of-session bargaining chips.

Several measures have passed the House but failed to get corresponding Senate approval or even much discussion yet.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said those debates will happen in the session’s closing weeks.

“There’s going to be a lot of potential conversations about public safety, police accountability and all the issues the House and Senate will work through,” Gazelka said, adding that the vote  was about backfilling for a security operation that already happened.

“We cannot allow rioting to happen. Protests, yes. Rioting, no,” Gazelka said. “And this was the cost of making sure we had the adequate resources.”

Franzen took offense to his characterization.

“We’re not about chaos. We’re trying to bring accountability,” Franzen said. “Something sensible as accountability that we can all agree upon in a bipartisan way and manner. What we have refused is to participate in what that accountability looks like by pushing the issue to our conference committee process versus a thorough vetting through our legislative process.”

At an event outside a walkup vaccination clinic Tuesday afternoon, Walz appealed to Republicans to give the police bills more than lip service.

“No one wants us to get into these situations where someone is killed or someone has to make a decision to shoot if we can avoid those on the front end,” Walz said. “So my message to them is: Let’s do this.”

Gov. Tim Walz speaks
Gov. Tim Walz speaks after touring a mobile COVID-19 vaccination unit in Richfield, Minn., on Tuesday.
Mark Zdechlik | MPR News

State Rep. Mariani said he’ll also insist that a meaningful focus be put on proposals to bring more oversight and transparency to policing.

“It’s beneath us as a Legislature, frankly as just decent citizens, to wait for tragedy to happen in order for us to act,” Mariani said. “So to be in this place today is just troubling to me.”

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