Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz's proposal for a $35 million public safety emergency fund is caught in the midst of warring factions: a punitive GOP Senate that seemingly wants only to punish the city of Minneapolis, House DFLers reluctant to let pass an opportunity to attach reforms to police funding, and those who think even the strictest reforms don't go far enough.
Enter help from an unexpected quarter: House Republicans.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said he has looked at the plan and "we actually think the request from the governor is reasonable and right." House Republicans don't want the governor to use the money for agency expenses — they expect that to be covered through budgeted funds. "But the idea of reimbursing other police and sheriffs' departments for extraordinary mutual aid is a good one," Daudt told an editorial writer.
Their only other objection is to the House DFLers' reform language. They argue such reforms could be attached to other types of law enforcement funding rather than this special fund.
Let's be clear: Giving up those reforms is no small concession. Rep. Carlos Mariani, who leads the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee, sees the fund as a critical means of holding police and sheriffs' departments accountable. He has tried to walk a fine line between varying views in his caucus.
"We need a smart, unified command approach," Mariani told an editorial writer. "We've got white nationalist groups; criminal elements seeking to take advantage of events, people planning incendiary devices and protesters."
But, he said, "we also have the chance to define appropriate police behavior; to create a statewide model policy on public assembly gatherings." Officers can and should be held individually accountable for violations of First Amendment rights, through the state's licensing powers, he said. That could range from a warning to revoking a license. Mariani has said he is willing to compromise on the licensing accountability, but he said "we're not going to let the minority run our bill."
His version faced a critical test Thursday night but was rejected, 71-63, in a rare failure to get a DFL bill through a DFL-led House.
Some police and public safety reforms are worth undertaking. But as the Star Tribune Editorial Board previously offered, this legislation is not the appropriate vehicle for them, and there is a pressing need to have a funding plan in place.
That leaves the House Republican compromise, which DFLers may find less than ideal, but it represents the chance for a strong bipartisan vote.
The trial of former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd begins in just a little over two weeks. Law enforcement needs the certainty that this funding can bring. They need it to ensure the safety of lives and property alike.
The combined force of House DFL and Republican votes would make it possible to show the Senate proposal for what it is: a cynical attempt to punish the city of Minneapolis that serves no real purpose except to further divide the state. That plan would somehow deduct security expenses from the city's local government aid. Local police is one of the city's biggest expenses.
"We don't view this as a bailout of Minneapolis," Daudt told an editorial writer. "We don't think [Senate Republicans] should use those kinds of words." This time it's the Chauvin trial, he said, next time it could be the Line 3 pipeline that poses a public safety emergency.
Mariani expressed a similar sentiment: "We're stronger when we help each other," he said. "Just like I voted for relief for the Red River Valley. It affects me, because it affects my state."
There is a rare opportunity here for House DFLers and Republicans to come together on public safety and offer a unified front. We urge them to take it.