Minnesota GOP lawmakers push higher fentanyl penalties in public safety proposal

Republicans have little chance of getting much of their agenda through as the DFL controls state government.

House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, and fellow GOP lawmakers speak on their public safety proposals at a Capitol news conference Thursday, March 9.
Alex Derosier / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Minority Republicans in the Minnesota Senate and House are pushing for a package of public safety legislation they say will fight crime by stiffening criminal penalties and strengthening police forces.

Creating a new carjacking offense, boosting penalties for illicit fentanyl, and a new system tracking judges’ sentencing decisions are just a few proposals included in what GOP lawmakers are calling the “Safe and Sound Minnesota” public safety plan. But with Democrats in control of state government, little of their agenda has gained traction so far, save a few bipartisan items.

Addressing reporters on the bill at a Capitol news conference Thursday, House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, criticized Democrats’ approach to public safety as failing to hold wrongdoers accountable. One example, she said, was the DFL push this week to penalize car manufacturers Kia and Hyundai for design flaws that make their vehicles easier to steal, rather than doing more to go after thieves.

“We want to prioritize the rights of victims to stop crime, and we don't want to give any more ground to the offenders,” Demuth said. “It seems that our Democrat colleagues want to go after car manufacturers but Republicans actually do want to go after the criminals.”

The proposals called for expanding affordable health care by establishing a MinnesotaCare public option and more than a billion dollars in affordable housing proposals over the next four years.

To that end, GOP lawmakers want not just to create a new offense for carjacking, but increase penalties for fleeing police in a vehicle and increase sentences for offenders with two or more violent crime convictions. On guns, Republicans want to increase penalties for giving a gun to an ineligible person, such as a felon, and ensure followup on removal of guns from people who have been ordered to give them up by a judge due to domestic abuse offenses.


Republicans have criticized judges and prosecutors in the Twin Cities metro area in recent years for not pursuing serious enough punishments for criminals. Part of this year’s package includes legislation requiring county prosecutors to give the Legislature data about which felonies they don’t prosecute.

Another Republican bill would direct the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission to create a website to show what sentences judges hand down to defendants.

“There seems to be this culture of letting people have a lighter sentence,” said Rep. Peggy Scott, an Andover Republican sponsoring the bills tracking prosecutions and sentencing. ”And we want to understand what's happening with that and really hold these violent offenders accountable.”

Funding in the GOP safety package includes:

  • $168 million for the police and first responder pension funds;
  • $15 million for body cameras;
  • $15 million for more police on Metro Transit in the Twin Cities; and
  • $3 million to be split between the Minnesota State Patrol for air patrol and the the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Office for violent crime prevention.

They’re also calling for funding for departments and training. Recruitment funding includes $5 million for scholarships and technology for law enforcement students and $1 million for a police recruitment program.

What can Republicans get through?

Republicans have little chance of getting much of their agenda through as Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers control a majority in both chambers. They’ve shown little interest in the GOP crime and safety bills; few can expect a hearing.

But some of the bipartisan proposals such as a bill boosting penalties for the sale and possession of fentanyl could see a hearing in the coming weeks, said Sen. Michael Kreun, R-Blaine, who is sponsoring a Senate bill on the issue. Another measure with bipartisan support is a bill to put $10.5 million toward processing rape kit backlog.

The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said it had finished the rollout of a technology that lets survivors review, in real time, where their sexual assault evidence kit is in the testing process.

DFL legislators and the governor have been working at a feverish pace to get many bills passed this session, though public safety has not occupied centerstage like it did in the last year. Crime was a hot election-year issue following two consecutive years of record crime in Minnesota that included a surge in carjackings.


Still, Democrats are still advancing proposals of their own. Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, is carrying a bill based on the “Public Safety Innovation Act” he introduced last year. The bill emphasizes a “community-centered” approach to addressing violent crime over stiffening penalties for offenders and recruiting more police.

Gov. Tim Walz in January proposed a $1.5 billion health and public safety budget that included $300 million in local aid for public safety agencies. In all, it calls for more than $500 million in public safety training over the next four years including firefighter training, police use-of-force investigations and crime victim support.

The $300 million public safety funding proposal backed by DFLers is currently moving through the Minnesota Senate. It would provide funding to local and tribal governments to pay for public safety personnel and “other efforts” to enhance public safety.

Sen. Tax Committee Chair Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, said in a news release that it would be considered for inclusion in this session’s tax bill.

Follow Alex Derosier on Twitter @xanderosier or email .

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Alex Derosier covers Minnesota breaking news and state government for Forum News Service.
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