ST. PAUL -- The sprint to pass a state budget by June continues as Minnesota House Democrats are pushing for a $1.58 billion bill package to fund public safety needs in the state. But they’re already facing early resistance from Republican colleagues who have dubbed the bill package as “anti-law enforcement.”
House Democrats in a Thursday, April 8, news conference said their 235-page omnibus -- which includes both regular appropriations, as well as policy wish list items -- is lawmakers’ attempt to reckon with calls to reform the state’s criminal justice system in the wake of George Floyd’s death last May.
In addition to regular spending for police departments and the state prison system, the package also includes bills to rewrite the state’s controversial sexual assault statutes, establish an office to investigate cases of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples, expunge low-level criminal records, grant greater authority to citizen oversight councils over police departments and more.
State Rep. Carlos Mariani, D-St. Paul, who chairs the House’s Public Safety Committee, said Thursday that public safety and criminal justice reform is one of the “big issues on the top of minds of virtually every Minnesotan today.”
“New times require new approaches. That’s what we have constantly heard from Minnesotans and that’s what this bill intends to do,” he said. “We listen for that call for accountability in this bill and we do so by strengthening all our public safety and corrections systems.”
House Democrats also on Thursday were quick to point fingers across the aisle at the Republican-controlled state Senate, which they said has not held hearings on any bills to further reform policing in Minnesota since the Legislature passed a police accountability bill package last summer.
House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley, said nearly a year after Floyd’s death and amid former-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s trial, Minnesota is “in a time of reckoning and we are in a time of reform.” He implored state lawmakers to meet the moment with legislative reform.
“We believe that Minnesota can come together. We know that we need to come together on a bipartisan basis because Republicans control the Minnesota Senate,” he said. “And like last summer, we can take meaningful steps that will do justice to this moment.”
Early signs show that bipartisanship could be a challenge on the bill package as a whole. In a Thursday news release responding to the Democrats’ proposal, House Republicans dubbed the omnibus as “anti-law enforcement.” State Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, who is the Republican lead on the House Public Safety Committee, accused Democrats of “pushing an anti-law enforcement agenda while reducing consequences for criminals.”
But, Johnson added, there are some parts of the omnibus his caucus members support, like reforming the state’s rape laws and allocating grants to prevent sex trafficking.
“(B)ut the same partisan agenda that derailed the SAFE Account earlier this session makes (the omnibus as introduced) impossible to support,” he concluded.
After several hours of debate in their Thursday afternoon hearing, the House Public Safety Committee approved the omnibus by an 11-8 vote, moving it forward to the chamber's Ways and Means Committee.
Correction: State Rep. Brian Johnson's name was misspelled in an earlier version of this story. It has been updated with the correct spelling. We regret the error.