Minneapolis city officials are bracing for a legal clash with supporters of a charter amendment proposal that would require all Minneapolis police to carry professional liability insurance.
Members of the Committee for Professional Policing said Friday that they were filing a lawsuit against the city — and expecting a judge to rule next week on whether the city must put the issue to voters.
The announcement came after the City Council formally voted to block that proposal, along with a second one that would have let voters weigh in on raising the city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour. The council’s votes largely mirrored those taken during a contentious committee meeting earlier in the week, in which supporters packed the council chambers and demanded that council members forward the two charter amendment petitions to the ballot.
Advocates for the police insurance measure, which would allow the city to provide basic insurance coverage but require officers to cover higher premiums prompted by lawsuits, said it would minimize officer misconduct. Minimum-wage supporters said the city should tackle persistent racial disparities by helping low-wage workers. A $15 wage would put Minneapolis’ minimum among the highest in the country.
While several council members said they support a higher wage, a majority agreed with legal opinions drafted by City Attorney Susan Segal, who said neither proposal met legal standards for a charter amendment. The council instead voted to begin the process of drafting a minimum-wage amendment, which they will vote on in 2017.
On Friday, the council voted 10-2 to block the minimum-wage proposal, with Council Members Alondra Cano and Cam Gordon casting votes in opposition. Cano and Gordon also voted in the minority on the police insurance amendment. Along with Council Member Andrew Johnson, they supported placing the issue on the ballot.
Johnson said he had considered each of the legal questions posed by both Segal and the Committee for Professional Policing, which submitted the proposal. While he said he believed the minimum-wage issue was a clear example of something prohibited by the charter, he thought the police insurance proposal fell into a gray area.
“This wasn’t clear-cut,” he said. “We may very well lose in court, but I don’t know that. My job isn’t to decide that.”
It appears it will be up to a judge to make that decision, likely as soon as next week. The city is on a tight timeline if it is to refer any charter amendment proposals to the ballot. Ballot questions must be filed with Hennepin County by Aug. 26, but the council has just one more regular meeting before that date, on Aug. 19.
In a news conference held outside the council chambers immediately after the council’s vote, police insurance supporters said they expect a judge will have to make a decision as soon as next week. After a brief standoff with a security officer who asked the group to move its news conference down the hall — advocates refused to move, saying City Hall had “already stomped on our rights enough” — backers of the proposal said they were convinced a judge would reverse the council’s “illegal” decision.
“There is nothing manifestly unconstitutional about our amendment, and there is nothing manifestly unconstitutional about police accountability,” said Michelle Gross, an activist.
She said the group had already filed a separate complaint with the State Auditor for misuse of public funds, that is, money the city has paid out to settle lawsuits over officer misconduct.
Between 2012 and September 2015, Minneapolis spent $6.6 million on settlements.
Meanwhile, members of the group 15 Now say they’re planning to meet with attorneys over the weekend and on filing a lawsuit against the city on Monday.