Public Safety bill passes to governor
Shaky deal involving end of peacetime emergency nearly falls apart in dead of night
So first there was a deal. Then there wasn’t. Then there was.
The $2.64 billion public safety/judiciary omnibus bill cleared the Senate in the wee small hours Wednesday, after passing earlier in the House. It is now ready for the governor’s signature.
So is the state government finance bill that funds the legislature, governor’s office, Attorney General’s Office and Secretary of State and a bunch of other executive agencies. With its passage, the COVID-19 peacetime emergency has come to an end.
We wouldn’t normally dwell on both bills in a story that’s really about the public safety legislation. But the end of the governor’s emergency powers—a feature first added to the state government finance bill by the Senate—got tied up in a “global agreement” that involved bringing in two last-minute add-ons, including an additional police-reform measure, to the public safety omnibus.
But that all fell apart, for a while, early Wednesday.
“There was a broad agreement,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, told his chamber early Wednesday. “The bargain was not met in the House on the state government bill. So we are going back to the agreement that we had prior, which did not include those two new provisions.”
Then, with little explanation, the arrangement fell back into place about an hour later.
The long and the short of it is that the House reconsidered the language it wanted to use to end the peacetime emergency, which House Republicans loudly balked at. Instead, the House went along with the Senate plan to end the governor’s powers. That made senators happy, so they re-accepted the House public safety amendments.
And the deal was back in place.
The final public safety bill passed largely—though not entirely—free of the police accountability reforms prized by Democrats.
“Accountability is good for any profession,” House Public Safety Chair Carlos Mariani, DFL-St, Paul, said during closing moments of the six-hour House debate late Tuesday.
“We’re not quite there with this bill,” he said, “but there is movement in that direction. I do believe that there is a belief on both sides of the aisle for that. And it’s our job to find a way.”
Even before the confusion of early Wednesday, it looked like the public safety bill could get derailed. A slew of police policy amendments from the People of Color and Indigenous Caucus was submitted, but never brought to the House floor Tuesday.
One of those would have banned white supremacy affiliations among police. Another would have authorized the formation of civilian police-oversight boards. A third would banned pre-textual traffic stops for minor offenses like expired license plate tabs.
Had they been included, those amendments would have reintroduced into the bill measures firmly rejected by GOP Senate negotiators. That might have capsized the shaky House-Senate agreement on the bill, with little time left for maneuvering before a possible July 1 shutdown.
Instead, a deal was quietly struck to clear a spot for one additional police reform initiative. That was the “sign and release” warrant measure from Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis. Under that provision, police would issue a written summons if someone missed a court date, rather than taking that person into custody.
That measure was teamed with a GOP House amendment from Rep. Donald Raleigh, R-Circle Pines, which also was added to the bill.
The Raleigh amendment creates a misdemeanor offense for anyone who knowingly doxxes law enforcement officers or their families by posting their personal contact information on the Internet. If someone gets badly hurt or dies as a result, the crime becomes a gross misdemeanor.
Those two additions, plus several police-accountability executive orders announced by Gov. Tim Walz on Monday, seem to have prompted a critical mass of the more-skeptical House Democrats to settle for passing the bill and defer further police-reform legislation until 2022.
“This is truly only the beginning of police accountability,” said Rep. John Thompson, DFL-St. Paul. “I look forward to the governor delivering on his commitment and coming back next year and continuing this work.”
As was also true during Senate debate Tuesday, the House discussion was dominated by the subject of police accountability. Republicans defended law enforcement from what they consider spurious attacks from the left, and they railed against poor political leadership in the Twin Cities, which they blame for the spike in violent crime.
“We have a serious problem here,” said Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, a retired law enforcement officer. “How we’re going to deal with it, I don’t know yet. It’s going to take a lot of work. But demonization of law enforcement is not helping the issue.”
“We’re not attacking anything that doesn’t need to be attacked,” said Thompson, the freshman Democrat whose close friend Philando Castile was killed by a police officer in 2016. “If you are sitting here blindly acting like we don’t have a police problem, I believe you are the problem, not me.”
In the end, the House passed the bill with votes to spare, 75-59. Some House Republicans also crossed over to vote for the bill, offsetting the loss of a few DFL votes.
The Senate debated its version of the bill for seven hours Tuesday, only to lay it on the table and await the House vote. The conversation there had much the same tone as in the lower chamber.
“In my view, this bill misses an historic—and I don’t use that term lightly—opportunity to advance public safety in a way that is broader than some would define it,” said Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park.
“This bill is not just one-sided politically,” said Sen. Melisa Lopez Franzen, DFL-Edina, who said Republicans ignored calls by community members to protect them from systemic racism and police violence. “It is one-sided in terms of the people we are trying to help.”
Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, on the other hand, called it “an extremely important bill” that has “regained public confidence” in police.
“They have families, too, they have lives and they take this very, very personal,” Rosen said. “This personal assault that we’ve had on them, it’s hard on them.”
The bill’s Senate author, Judiciary Chair Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, read out a lengthy list of the 223-page bill’s many features that span well beyond police reform. He said his caucus placed a premium on attracting the broadest consensus possible for the legislation, but said it could not “weaken law enforcement.”
“I might want to add that we are divided government and we come to some of these issues with various degrees of opposition,” he said. “It’s been a rather difficult process to arrive at a common point. I believe we have gone as far as we can go.”
In the end, after clearing up the confusion over that temporarily busted global deal, the Senate voted 45-21 to pass the bill.
Here is a partial list of the bill’s features.
“Matson Strong:” This GOP measure stiffens penalties for those who attempt kill public safety officials. It was named after Arik Matson, a Waseca police officer who was shot in the line of duty.
Travis’s Law: Requires 911 operators to include social service crisis teams for mental health calls.
Matthew’s Law: Increases safety protections for confidential informants.
Ignition interlocks: These will be required for repeat DWI offenders.
No-knock warrant regulations: The bill prohibits no-knock warrants if the only underlying crime suspected is personal drug use.
A major sex-conduct criminal code rewrite includes a repeal of the statutory “intoxication loophole.”
Increased body cameras funding is provided for state law enforcement agencies. There is also a one-time body-cam funding provision that prioritizes local, non-metro law enforcement.
An expansion of the Alternatives to Incarceration pilot project for non-violent offenders with substance abuse issues.
Healthy Start Act: A temporary release program for pregnant and post-partem inmates who give birth while incarcerated.
A 2.5% pay raise for judges and court staff.
Additional money for courthouse physical security grants.
An 8.7% funding increase for public defenders and a 21.5% increase over base funding for civil legal services.
Pay raises for foreign-language court interpreters.
Civil asset forfeiture reform.
A measure that allows judges to consider waiving traffic and criminal fines and fees for the indigent.
Establishment of a new Office of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women
$800,000 in one-time funding for Innovations in Community Safety grants for alternatives to policing programs.
Database improvements to track officer conduct through the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board.
Department of Corrections requirement to provide identification cards and information on how to access public services and prevent homelessness, when releasing convicts at the end of their prison sentence.