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Minnesota Senate, House will have to negotiate on competing visions for public safety

After hours of floor debate Friday night, April 29, the Minnesota House passed the DFL-backed $340 million public safety bill 68-61 on party lines. House public safety committee chair Carlos Mariani, the bill’s sponsor, said the House DFL public safety package looks to new, innovative solutions to crime rather than relying on cracking down on offenders. Republicans have been pushing for a tough-on-crime approach that would stiffen penalties for certain offenses and provide police officer recruitment incentives across the state.

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Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, argues in favor of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor omnibus public safety package in the House of Representatives on Friday, April 29. The discussion dragged on late into the evening as members debated amendments to the more than $300 million proposal.
Alex Derosier / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL — The Minnesota House and Senate have now both passed their public safety bills, setting the stage for negotiations over how the state should address a wave of violent crime.

Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers favor an approach that aims to address the root causes of violent crime and rely more on community organizations working with police in prevention efforts. Republicans have been pushing for a tough-on-crime approach that would stiffen penalties for certain offenses and provide police officer recruitment incentives across the state.

The debate over how to address crime has been front and center during the 2022 legislative session as Minnesota and the nation see a surge in crimes like homicides and carjackings. Minnesota saw a record 185 criminal homicides in 2020, a 58% increase from 117 in 2019, according to state numbers. Minneapolis reported more than 600 carjackings in 2021 — up from 388 the year before.

After hours of floor debate Friday night, April 29, the Minnesota House passed the DFL-backed $340 million public safety bill 68-61 on party lines. House public safety committee chair Carlos Mariani, the bill’s sponsor, said the House DFL public safety package looks to new, innovative solutions to crime rather than relying on cracking down on offenders. The DFL package includes provisions supporting investments in juvenile justice, victim services and body cameras.

“We can’t just only do the old things like over depending on peace officers to do it all,” the Saint Paul Democrat said as he introduced the bill on the House floor. “Like pretending that youth workers, youth themselves, victims of crime, mental health responders, community organizers, small businesses don’t have something to offer to solve criminal activity — that somehow they can’t work effectively with peace officers.”

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To that end, a major component of the House public safety omnibus bill is New Hope DFL Rep. Cedrick Frazier’s Public Safety Innovation Act, which emphasizes a “community-centered” approach to addressing violent crime over stiffening penalties for offenders and recruiting more police. For example, the House DFL bill provides $85 million annually in community safety grants for the 80 Minnesota communities facing the greatest amount of crime.

Other highlights include:

The Republican-controlled Minnesota Senate on April 25 passed its $200 million public safety package, which emphasizes increasing criminal penalties, including creating a new criminal offense specifically for car-jacking. More than $100 million in the Senate bill would go to recruiting and retaining police. The Senate bill, which was introduced by Maple Grove Republican Warren Limmer, passed the Senate Monday 48-19 with bipartisan support.
Now that the DFL-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate both have passed their major public safety bills, the majorities in each chamber will have to hammer out the differences. Typically that happens in a conference committee where the chambers reconcile the differences between the bills.

Gov. Tim Walz has been touring the state-recommended $300 million in public safety grants for local agencies to do with as they see fit over the next three years. Any final policy or funding he signs into law will have to reflect a compromise between the Senate and House.

House Republicans on Friday attempted to paint the DFL bill as doing too little to support law enforcement agencies as it provided $55 million for community programs and “violence interrupters,” volunteer groups that attempt to mediate conflicts by interacting with members of communities plagued with violent crime.

“I don’t see how it will make our community safer,” Rep. Paul Novotny, R-Elk River said during debate on the House floor. “It leaves out so many of the bills that would have actually helped bring down the dramatic increase of crime.”

The DFL public safety bill does appropriate money for recruiting police officers — including $15 million in the coming year, and $10 million annually in the two following years. Frazier and Mariani disputed Republican claims, saying the challenge of violent crime demands new approaches, including building trust with communities that suffer from crime the most.

Other major sticking points included a Republican amendment to increase criminal penalties for possession of fentanyl and creating a specific offense for carjacking. Novotny attempted to introduce an amendment with stiffer penalties for fentanyl possession but did not succeed. The Senate bill includes that policy.

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One point of agreement

Members were able to reach widespread consensus on one thing during floor debate that carried on past 11 p.m. Friday night: An amendment that clarifies state law to offer greater protection against invasions of privacy.

Minnesota Supreme Court justices on Wednesday r uled a man who captured naked images of a sleeping woman without her consent had not violated the state’s privacy laws . The state’s highest court said the state’s “peeping Tom” law did not apply because the man did not capture images of the woman “through the window or any other aperture of a house or place of dwelling of another.”

Justices in their ruling said the matter was a question for the legislature, not the courts. Heeding that call, Rep. Kelly Moller, DFL-Shoreview, on Friday night introduced an amendment to the House’s public safety bill to change the statute's language which passed with unanimous support. If the change became law, it would be a gross misdemeanor to record someone without their consent in a private space.

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