GOP senators push back on Walz’s $35M request to shore up security during Chauvin trial

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Minnesota Senate Republicans held a news conference Thursday addressing how the state will pay for public safety responses during the upcoming trials of Derek Chauvin and the other former officers charged in the death of George Floyd.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, and Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Property Taxes, countered Gov. Tim Walz’s request for a $35 million fund with a bill that would give local law enforcement agencies a process to be reimbursed for providing mutual aid.

The senators claimed that several agencies have yet to be paid for providing mutual aid to the Minneapolis Police Department, all while City Council members are pursuing measures to divert funding away from the police.

"We are not going to bail out Minneapolis City Council after they have made cuts to the public safety budget," Gazelka said. "Actions to defund the police have consequences. Instead, we will propose an alternative later this week to make sure mutual aid will be reimbursed, law enforcement can respond, and without taking general fund dollars away from education, healthcare, or transportation."

In December, the Minneapolis City Council approved the rerouting of $8 million from the police department toward violence prevention, mental health response and other programs in the city’s 2021 budget. However, the council opted not to make any changes to the number of sworn officers on the force.

The Republicans emphasized that the mutual aid reimbursement wouldn’t eat into the state budget because it would simply divert Local Government Aid funds from the city that owes payment to the city that provided mutual aid.

“Respectfully, we have to balance our state budget, and Minneapolis has the money for public safety. If they aren’t paying their bills or need more mutual aid than they can afford after defunding their own police by $8 million, we’re not going to ask taxpayers to foot that bill," said Weber, who authored the bill.

KSTP obtained a letter to Gov. Tim Walz dated Dec. 23 written by Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, and cosigned by Gazelka and five other Republican senators requesting $7.6 million in funding to pay for the Minnesota National Guard and Minnesota State Patrol to support the Minneapolis Police Department during the trials.

"The rioting we saw this summer not only caused unnecessary injuries and loss of life, but also destroyed the livelihoods of many of our neighbors, and prevented citizens from engaging in their right to peacefully protest," Newman wrote.

Gazelka explained the letter by saying they now plan to have Minneapolis pay for that with local government aid money rather than through a special fund from the governor.

Through his spokesperson Teddy Tschann, Walz pushed back on the Republican bill.

"Messing around with local government aid to punish the City of Minneapolis is not a serious plan to prepare for a public safety challenge of this magnitude," Tschann said in a statement.

Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman said in a statement, “All Minnesotans deserve to be safe in their communities, and that’s why House DFLers have put forward legislation for the SAFE Account. We’re working with Governor Walz to ensure that all of our communities, from rural to suburban to urban, are able to respond to extraordinary events. We are grateful for the public service of law enforcement who help preserve peace and safety for Minnesotans while respecting their constitutional and human rights. We want to make sure that they are funded and prepared. House Democrats passed this legislation out of the Public Safety Committee Tuesday with no support from Republicans. Democrats are standing up to provide public safety for all Minnesotans, and we expect Republicans to join us.”

The $7.6 million figure was specifically requested as part of "Operation Safety Net," the state’s plan for deploying the National Guard to prevent a repeat of last summer’s civil unrest.

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