Richfield shooting prompts lawmakers to pledge cooperation on public safety

Mourners gather for a vigil outside
Mourners gather for a vigil outside of South Education Center in Richfield to honor Jahmari Rice, who was shot and killed outside of the school, as well as another critically injured student on Tuesday. Police have arrested two suspects in the case.
Tim Evans for MPR News

Gov. Tim Walz said Minnesota parents sent their children to school with heavy hearts a day after the shooting outside a Richfield school that left one student dead and another critically injured. Walz said he was at the school Wednesday talking to educators and staff.

“These violent crimes need to be stopped, and gun violence is a part of it, and understanding that this is multifaceted,” Walz said during a remote legislative preview sponsored by Forum News Service. “We need to have no tolerance for these crimes, and we need to have no tolerance for the causes of these crimes.” 

The governor said he thinks some bipartisan solutions are within reach this session. The public safety proposal he put forward last week would use some of the state budget surplus to help local communities hire more police officers and implement other crime-fighting strategies.

But while Walz says he's open to new gun restrictions, Republican Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller is not.

"It's highly unlikely to see any gun control measure move through the Senate this year," Miller said.

Senate Republicans are also stressing the need for more police officers. They want to increase prison sentences for violent crimes and prevent county attorneys from ignoring low-level crimes.

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Still, Miller said he, too, thinks some bipartisan agreement can be reached in the Legislature this year.

“We hear it every single day from people across the state that violent crime is out of control in the state of Minnesota, and we need to work together,” Miller said. “It’s going to take public officials at all levels, all parties to address this issue.”

House Democrats are also looking for some bipartisan agreement on public safety. DFL House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler said during the same forum that leaders have a responsibility to find those across-the-aisle solutions.

“This is a problem that affects all of Minnesota,” Winkler said. “This is not a partisan problem. This affects everybody, and we need to be bringing out our best leadership in order to address this.”

Despite the calls for bipartisan cooperation, Senate Republicans went to work Wednesday on one of their public safety proposals that Democrats don’t support. Republicans want members of the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission to be confirmed by the Senate, instead of the current practice by which the governor appoints the members on his own.

Members of the Senate judiciary and public safety committee advanced the bill on a 6-3, party line vote. It's unclear what fate awaits it in the DFL-controlled House. 

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, brought the bill forward following the commission’s recent consideration of a proposal that could have resulted in reduced prison time for some felons.

"Quite honestly I think this is alarming, when an organization appointed by just the executive branch, without the legislative branch that represents the public, is making serious changes to criminal sentences," Limmer said.