Extraordinary events across the nation over the last year have highlighted the reality that emergency situations can happen anywhere and at any time, often with little notice. The state of Minnesota has a Disaster Contingency Account to help local communities recover from natural disasters and unforeseen circumstances. In his most recent budget, Governor Walz proposed a similar account to be available to support first responders called upon to assist other communities during extraordinary, unplanned public safety events. The request called for $35 million to be set aside in the State Aid For Emergencies (SAFE) Account by Feb. 8, in order to create a statewide mutual response plan for potential unrest that could occur during the upcoming trial of Derek Chauvin, the former officer accused of murdering George Floyd.
Senate Republicans initially agreed with the need for a statewide plan to assure Minnesotans there is a plan to keep communities safe, and last December asked Governor Walz to budget $7 million for that purpose. However, when Governor Walz responded with the SAFE Account comprehensive plan and asked for urgent passage, Senate Republicans flip-flopped on their support and began to play politics with Minnesotans’ safety.
Senate Republicans instead proposed a bill that would penalize communities that ask for assistance in protecting Minnesotans. Their bill does not plan ahead for safety needs but, instead, allows cities providing help to take local government aid funds from the community in need to cover unpaid mutual aid costs. The bill does nothing to address the need for a statewide support network. Local governments already use mutual aid agreements to collaborate, city organizations have noted almost no instances of unpaid mutual aid, and multiple organizations representing Minnesota’s cities and counties oppose the Republican proposal.
There is concern that passing this bill would prevent cities from asking for help when they really need it. Perhaps most concerning is that local government aid is the fund used to support and pay for public safety in most communities. Passing a bill to allegedly support public safety needs by docking public safety budgets is counterproductive.
Senate DFLers will continue to advocate for the governor’s SAFE Account approach, and for it to pass quickly. It is a resource that hopefully will not be needed often, but its existence will provide peace of mind to all Minnesotans hoping to plan for future needs. (HF 445) (SF 749)