Judiciary and Public Safety

Judiciary and Civil Law Committees suffer under Republican leadership

There has been renewed focus on transformational changes to Minnesota’s criminal justice and policing systems in the aftermath of the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent beginning of the Derek Chauvin trial. Republicans promised they would continue this important work after passing a bare minimum reform bill last summer but have not kept that promise. Senate Republicans don’t seem inclined to do much legislative work at all this session, hearing only a few bills each time the Judiciary and Civil Law Committees meet, refusing to hear almost any DFL-authored bills while ignoring many simple good government get-the-job-done kind of bills. Many of these bills have been introduced session-after-session and are languishing as the committee chairs refuse to allow hearings on these legislative proposals.

House DFLers, on the other hand, have had incredibly full committee agendas as they do the difficult, important work Minnesotans expect of us. As Senate Republicans put together a budget bill that ignore important policy proposals that have waited, often years, to receive a hearing, it is difficult to imagine a budget bill that does not contain policy, simply because these important proposals need to be passed and Senate Republicans have left us no choice in finding a path forward for them.

Republicans refuse to hear transformational criminal justice and policing reform

Senate DFLers expected Senate Republicans to keep their promise when they said they would continue to look for ways to address the systemic racism in Minnesota’s criminal justice and policing system. However, halfway into session they have yet to schedule a single DFL bill for consideration or offer their own proposals. No fewer than 10 bills addressing policing and criminal justice reform have been introduced; all are still awaiting a hearing.

We made a promise to our communities when we passed last year’s bare minimum reform bill that we would keep fighting. Senate DFLers have upheld that promise, introducing bills that would allow for more actions to be taken against bad officers and eliminate qualified immunity, prohibit law enforcement from acquiring military grade weapons and equipment, prohibit cash bail, address inequities in our court system and reduce the number of individuals having to interact with the criminal justice system in the first place, and more. Senate Republicans, on the other hand, have done nothing but act as a roadblock. We will continue to demand justice for our communities despite this obstruction.

Let’s be blunt – Senate Republicans don’t consider legalized adult-use cannabis a high priority

Senate DFLers again introduced a bill this session to legalize adult-use recreational cannabis. The bill would create a regulated system to buy, sell, and produce cannabis, with similar restrictions as tobacco and alcohol to ensure public safety. The bill would also expunge the records of past cannabis convictions. Minnesota disproportionally convicts more people of color on charges related to cannabis than white Minnesotans. The legalization of adult-use cannabis in Minnesota and the expungement of these past convictions are steps forward in addressing the real racial disparities within the state.

Senate and House DFLers have put in a lot of difficult work on this bill, with considerations towards impaired driving, landlord rights, zoning laws, operation outlines, and continued education on the effects of cannabis.

Minnesotans agree that it is time to have a conversation on legalizing cannabis, and many agree that it is time to legalize adult-use recreational cannabis. The House is expected to pass a cannabis legalization bill by the end of session. Senate Republicans, however, have refused to even entertain the idea of a conversation around the bill, refusing to give the bill a hearing in committee, along with a number of other bills that would address the negative effects on a failed war on cannabis.

Senate DFLers know Minnesotans want and are ready to have this conversation. We are too, and we will look for ways to push forward on this issue before the end of session.

Good governance bills languish under Republican leadership

Not only have Senate Republicans refused to hear almost any DFL bills, they are ignoring bipartisan, good governance bills that would improve the lives of Minnesotans and keep us safer. Technical bills from state agencies, bills improving the state’s DWI laws, juvenile justice reform bills, and other sensible bills have been left languishing as Senate Republicans remain reluctant to do the work Minnesotans expect from their legislators. The Judiciary Committee was once known as being a bottleneck committee because there was simply not enough time to hear all the bills sent to the committee, even with working until the last possible second on deadline weeks. The committee is still seen as a bottleneck committee, though there are concerns that it is because it has now become a do-nothing committee.

This will be an issue especially as the committee moves into budget negotiations, as good policy heard in the house will need to find paths to move forward despite this Republican obstruction. Senate DFLers want to see these sensible, good-governance bills passed, while Senate Republicans want to make government dysfunctional so they can claim government is dysfunctional. We will look for ways to move these important bills forward as session continues.

SAFE Account stalled out; governor moved forward in preparing for public safety demands

Governor Walz made a request of the Legislature in January to establish an account to pay for cost-sharing reimbursements to local governments and state agencies during public safety events that exhaust local resources, including mutual aid requests. The bill, known as the SAFE Act, sets up $35 million to cover expenses that aren’t covered by other available federal and state disaster assistance programs after a local or state emergency is declared. The funds would be available to pay for overtime costs, travel expenses, food, lodging, and incidental supplies for law enforcement officers.

The issue is time sensitive as the state prepares for possible unrest during the ongoing trial of Derek Chauvin, the former officer facing charges for the murder of George Floyd. Outreach efforts are already occurring to stress the importance of peaceful protests but as was witnessed over the summer, there is little to prevent outside agitators from causing problems. The SAFE Account would provide a level of assurance to all Minnesota cities concerned about public safety.

Republicans, however, chose politics over policy with this important legislation by bringing a very different version of the bill to the floor.

Their version of the bill would allocate only $20 million to a law enforcement operation, or “LEO”, account. Language in the bill also delays implementation of the use of deadly force policy the Legislature passed last summer as a response to the murder of George Floyd. There is also a provision in the bill that would prohibit the state’s disaster assistance contingency account from being used to pay for damages from civil unrest – despite that account being set up to provide assistance to our communities when in distress.

The bill passed the Senate and was sent to the House, where there is little appetite among Republicans to pass the bill. Operation Safety Net, which was put in place to allow the state to prepare for the trial of Derek Chauvin, has moved forward in preparing for the trial which started this month, and it remains to be seen what will happen with the SAFE Act proposal.