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Minnesota Legislature

Ways and means committee adds appropriation amounts to public safety COVID-19 bill

The House Ways and Means Committee approved a $22.4 million bill Wednesday that would fund public safety initiatives in the 2020-21 biennium to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

And there were two distinct – and partisan – views on that action.

Republicans said that with the state’s projected budget shortfall, these programs just can’t be funded, as worthy as they might be. “We don’t have any money,” said Rep. Peggy Scott (R-Andover).

But DFL members said keeping the public safe is a core duty of state government, and that it must find a way to fund these “critical” programs.

“The public is not going to be safe unless we do this,” said Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul), who sponsors HF3156, dubbed the “COVID-19 public safety and corrections policy bill.”

The committee approved the bill, as amended by the A13 and A14 amendments, on a 17-10 party-line vote, and sent it to the House floor. There is no Senate companion.

Specifically, HF3156, as amended, would fund the following programs in the 2020-21 biennium:

  • $9.8 million for Department of Corrections violence-prevention and other community programs;
  • $7.9 million to the department for staff compensation and overtime;
  • $3.1 million to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for sexual assault exam kit storage, tracking and testing; and
  • $1.3 million for the BCA DNA and ballistics crime labs.

[MORE: view the spreadsheet]

However, the state would not have to spend all those amounts.

Mariani believes much of the appropriation would be eligible to be funded by money the state will receive under the federal CARES Act. A third amendment approved by the committee specifies that federal dollars be spent first, with the state’s General Fund being the monetary source only if needed.

Mariani said he and other DFL members made many efforts in recent weeks to trim down the funding requests in light of the state’s increasing budget crunch. As late as mid-April, earlier versions of the COVID-19 public safety and corrections policy bill had a $67.1 million price tag, Mariani noted.

He said funding requests in the bill are the “bare minimum” needed to keep Minnesotans safe, adding that the money going to the BCA to fund sexual assault exam kit storage, tracking and testing was particularly critical.

With the current and ongoing failure to test sexual assault exam kits “we are basically letting violators get off the hook,” he said.

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