At legislative halftime, budget battle and peacetime emergency remain

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When lawyers in the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin begin their opening statements Monday morning, much of downtown Minneapolis will be fortified, surrounded by law enforcement.

But if events turn sour, a funding mechanism proposed by Gov. Tim Walz won’t be in place to help pay for the staffing meant to keep the peace. House DFLers in the Minnesota Legislature remain at an impasse over the public safety-funding measure, despite multiple attempts to approve it.

Asked on "At Issue" if the $35 million bill was going to receive legislative support, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said the coordination effort between the Minnesota National Guard and state and local law enforcement agencies are sufficient for now. Republicans in the Senate have previously supported a different version, which hasn’t gained any traction in the House.

"We have been assured that all the safety precautions that need to be put in place are in place and Operation Safety Net is running strong," Hortman said.

The measure failed twice already on the House floor as the entire Republican bloc was joined by DFL lawmakers from Minneapolis and St. Paul in voting against it. Those DFLers say they want more police accountability.

"We already passed it twice," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said on Sunday’s show. "We’re waiting for the House to pass a version so we can get it done."

Peacetime Emergency Continues

The divided Minnesota Legislature – the only one in the nation – heads into its spring break, which began on Saturday and runs until April 6. When lawmakers return, they’ll be faced with questions over what to do with the state’s projected $1.6 billion surplus – and if they will continue to allow the governor’s peacetime emergency to continue.

Through executive action, Walz argues he’s been able to respond quickly during the pandemic. He’s issued stay-at-home orders, diverted funding, required businesses to shut down and moved schools to distance learning. But he’s also directed facilities to open for COVID-19 testing and partnered with vaccination clinics.

Asked if there was still a peacetime state of emergency, Hortman responded, "There absolutely is."

"The end is in sight for the emergency powers but I think we have one final push here where those emergency powers are critically important," she added.

Republicans, however, have made the peacetime state of emergency a rallying cry: They have argued the governor is wielding too much power and it’s affecting everything from schools to the economy.

"All of the other things he’s doing through emergency powers are very different from a lot of different states," Gazelka said. "We want to work together with the governor. That happens without emergency powers."


There is at least one thing Gazelka and Hortman can agree on: They won’t be allowing sports betting to be legalized this session. Both told "At Issue" host Tom Hauser that the proposal doesn’t have the support it needs in either chamber despite a 2018 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that opened up its legality in most states.

Meanwhile, Gazelka shut the door on any chance of legalizing recreation marijuana, something the House DFL, including Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, have championed. That bill is still working through the committee process.

"It’s unclear right now if it has 68 votes to get off the House floor," Hortman said. "I think it looks like it is gathering that steam."