Minn. lawmakers hit roadblock, Chauvin trial security funding in question

Minnesota lawmakers hit a roadblock over how to pay the estimated $35 million cost of securing the upcoming Derek Chauvin murder trial, which is scheduled to start in three weeks.

On a 35-32 vote, Republican-controlled state Senate pushed through its plan forcing Minneapolis to pay the cost of outside police help. Minutes later, Democrats who control the House delayed a vote on a competing plan to create a state taxpayer-funded $35 million security account.

Chauvin is accused of murder in the May 2020 death of George Floyd, who died after Chauvin held him to the ground by putting his knee into Floyd's neck for several minutes. Floyd's death touched off four nights of riots in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and public safety officials fear unrest during the trial.

"Preparations for that trial are not dependent on passage of this bill," House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, told reporters after yanking the House bill from the floor late Monday afternoon.

The outcome is a setback to Gov. Tim Walz, who favors the House's proposal. With the Legislature's next move unclear, a Walz spokesman said in an email that the state "will adjust plans accordingly if the Legislature doesn't pass this funding" without elaborating.

Walz's administration has been signing agreements with municipalities for hundreds of police officers, though some cities and counties were said to be expecting payment for providing the mutual aid. 

House Speaker Melissa Hortman said she did not have the commitment of at least 68 of her 70 members to vote for the bill, and said Republicans told her that no GOP members would vote for it. At least 68 votes are needed to pass a bill in the House.

House DFL leaders have performed a balancing act in recent days, adding police accountability measures to the bill to court Minneapolis Democrats. But the changes -- including one requiring officers to follow model policies developed in part by the American Civil Liberties Union for handling public demonstrations -- angered three police associations. 

Their switch from neutrality to opposition meant no Republicans were willing to vote for the legislation.

"A storyline that says concerns about this bill only come from particular members of one party is not accurate. There are concerns about this bill in all quarters," Winkler told reporters.

Earlier in the afternoon, Senate Republicans pushed through their own proposal on a vote that closely followed party lines. The bill would cut Minneapolis's funding to repay cities that provide police help.

Three hours of bitter debate pitted outstate Republicans against Twin Cities Democrats. GOP members blamed Minneapolis for cutting $8 million from its police budget in December as the Chauvin trial loomed. 

The move did not lead to any officer layoffs, though Minneapolis Police is down 200 officers from 2019, mostly because cops have taken disability leave after the 2020 riots.

"If the city of Minneapolis isn’t prepared to stand up in the future, it’s going to be difficult for other law enforcement to step into that gap," said state Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, during the Senate floor debate.

All 34 Republicans voted for the bill, the 31 Democrats voted against it, and the chamber's two independents split.

Republicans accused Minneapolis of failing to pay invoices from surrounding cities that helped during the 2020 rioting. But Minneapolis countered that it had only received three invoices, had paid one, and was reviewing two others.

Anoka County sent a $396,356 invoice on Feb. 2, eight months after the riots and just as the debate heated up at the Capitol. Minneapolis officials were reviewing the charges, a city spokesman said. Anoka County's invoice asks for the money to be paid by March 4.

"I raised my six boys and the first thing I taught them to do was to pay their debts," state Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, said. "If someone didn’t pay a debt, it would be foolish to trust them to pay a debt in the future as well."

Minneapolis paid the city of Ramsey more than $12,000 for mutual aid, and is questioning charges on the city of Blaine's $137,000 invoice, the city spokesman said.

Rarely mentioned during the emotional Senate debate: the names of Floyd or Chauvin. They were first raised two hours into the debate by state Sen. Omar Fateh, DFL-Minneapolis, who represents the district where Floyd died.

Other Democratic senators questioned Republicans for targeting Minneapolis's funding. The city represents the state's largest tax base.

"People want to come and live in Minneapolis," said state Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis. "We have a tax base that supports rural Minnesota, because your communities are declining."