Minnesota legislators are locked in a stalemate over how to ensure law enforcement agencies can get help with the cost of pitching in with security during the trials of the four former Minneapolis police officers involved in the death of George Floyd.
State leaders are under a time crunch as they recruit police and sheriff's deputies from across the state to provide security for the trials, starting with former officer Derek Chauvin's trial in three weeks. Legislators debated proposals Monday intended to reassure outside departments that they wouldn't be on the hook for expenses they can't afford.
"You are kicking people while they're down," Sen. Omar Fateh, DFL-Minneapolis, said of a GOP-led proposal that could cut Minneapolis' state aid to reimburse other agencies. Fateh, who represents the district where Floyd died, called the bill "punitive and anti-human."
The Senate measure, which passed 35-32, says if a city like Minneapolis owes money to another community that provided law enforcement assistance, then that city would see its allotment of local government aid from the state reduced by the owed amount to cover the payment.
"It's just a bill who says who's going to pay the bill," Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, said of the measure he sponsored.
In the DFL-majority House, Democratic leaders decided not to vote on their version of the bill, acknowledging they didn't have the votes to pass it.
"Apparently we are not yet at the point in time this legislative session where we can have a reasonable conversation with the Senate Republican majority," House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said Monday.
The House plan aligns more closely with Gov. Tim Walz's initial proposal last month to create a $35 million State Aid For Emergencies (SAFE) account to reimburse communities. The House bill would create an account using dollars from the state's general fund, instead of pulling money from a community's local aid. However, they also added provisions aimed at increasing police accountability.
The House version would create a standard of conduct policy for officers responding to protests and require every state and local law enforcement agency to adopt such a policy. Any agency that gets state dollars under the House bill would have to do an after-action review of its response to the public safety event and submit a report to the state Peace Officer Standards and Training Board.
Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, has been pushing for police accountability measures to be tied to the law enforcement funding package. On Friday, he proposed amending the bill to make the after-action report inadmissible as evidence in a trial, hearing or civil court proceeding. He said the amendment removes some of the teeth from the measure but that law enforcement groups backed off their opposition to the bill after he proposed it.
"I'm dealing with the political realities here of getting enough folks to help the governor get this bill moving forward, while still pushing for concepts and action around reform. It still is going to be a hard sell for a lot of folks," Mariani said, including many Democratic legislators of color whose communities have been traumatized.
The House's inclusion of police accountability measures has complicated the proposal, said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake.
"It's never going to be a bill addressing more issues related to police accountability," he said. "We're committed to making sure that we have resources to keep the streets safe, but beyond that it's a nonstarter for us."
Both Winkler and Gazelka stressed that preparations for the Chauvin trial are well underway, despite the House and Senate's struggle to reach a funding compromise. Gazelka noted the Minnesota National Guard and State Patrol will be ready to provide security, and said he has heard from law enforcement agencies who said they will be there if a Minnesota city needs them.
He said he is open to holding a one-day special session after the regular legislative session concludes in May if they need to address law enforcement costs related to the trials at that point.
"That's playing chicken with safety in the Twin Cities," Mariani said of the idea of waiting to pass a funding measure until after the trial starts.
During the Senate debate, Sen. Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, called the GOP version of the bill a "solution in search of a problem" and said municipalities typically do not send one another a bill for providing law enforcement mutual aid. She and other legislators stressed that helping other communities is a "Minnesota value."
However, Minneapolis officials said they received three invoices seeking reimbursement for mutual aid provided after Floyd's death last May. The city paid one bill and is still reviewing the two others, according to city spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie.
Minnesota law allows cities to bill each other for mutual aid but says any claims for a "loss, damage or expense in using equipment or supplies" must be submitted within 90 days. The city received two invoices within the 90-day window. In July, about six weeks after Floyd's death, the city of Ramsey sent Minneapolis a $12,453 bill to cover officers' wages, mileage, food and water. That bill has been paid, McKenzie said.
Around the same time, Blaine sent Minneapolis a $137,357 bill to cover its staffing costs.
"We didn't hear anything for quite a while, then we did," said Blaine Police Chief Brian Podany.
The chief said Minneapolis officials told Blaine the city will receive some reimbursement but the two cities are negotiating the details. He said Blaine is reviewing the invoice to determine which officers were in Minneapolis assisting with the riots and which were called in to backfill their shifts responding to calls in Blaine.
At any given time, Blaine had as few as 12 or as many as 20-plus officers in Minneapolis. The department has about 70 officers total.
"It's a big financial hit, but not as big as if we were a smaller community. The people in Blaine shouldn't have to foot the bill for that," the chief said, adding that he's still hopeful the Legislature will provide some assistance.
Podany said they are negotiating a mutual aid agreement for the Chauvin trial, including terms of reimbursement.
This month, Anoka County sent Minneapolis a $396,787 invoice. The bulk of that was to cover wages for the sheriff's department, mileage, parking and meals. About $600 was for "computer & paper supplies." The bill was dated Feb. 2, one day before Walz publicly highlighted his proposal for the SAFE Account, and two days before Senate Republicans unveiled their counterproposal to use local government aid.
"During the Minneapolis unrest, the Anoka County Sheriff's Office did send some staff down to the city to help bring back order along with other agencies," said Tierney Peters, a spokeswoman for the agency. After that, per protocol, the agency compiled its expenses and sent them to the county's finance department to be considered for possible reimbursement, Peters said.
"The timing did not have any correlation with what is being discussed in the Legislature," Peters said.
Jessie Van Berkel • 651-925-5044
Liz Navratil • 612-673-4994