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Divided committee approves amended omnibus public safety package

(House Photography file photo)

Despite disagreements over individual provisions in the omnibus public safety policy and finance bill, the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee approved it Thursday on an 11-8 party-line vote.

As amended, HF4608 next goes to the House Ways and Means Committee.

Referencing the civic unrest of the last few years and the calls to reform the policing profession, Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul) said the state is in “a historic moment” and must not rely on public safety formulas of the past.

Mariani, the committee chair and bill sponsor, touted new ways the bill would adopt several different approaches, including creative ways to help law enforcement meet current staffing challenges, increase crime prevention efforts, help offenders reintegrate into society after release from prison, and address accountability issues when law enforcers break the law.

Republicans said too much of the $183.7 million that would be appropriated would go to untested, unsupervised, community crime-prevention groups and not enough funding would go to support law enforcement agencies.

“Public safety is in dire straits,” said Rep. Brian Johnson (R-Cambridge). To correct that, he said the bill should have focused more on retaining and supporting current police officers and recruiting new officers to replace a coming wave of retirements in the force.

[MORE: Detailed story of bill unveiling]

Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove) sponsors the companion bill, SF2673, which awaits action by the full Senate.

 

Fiscal highlights

Fiscal year 2023 appropriations requested for the Department of Public Safety include:

  • $122.4 million for the Office of Justice Programs;
  • $16 million for administration;
  • $5.4 million for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension; and
  • $4.2 million for Homeland Security and Emergency Management.

The Department of Corrections would get $24.1 million, including:

  • $11 million to replace or improve existing data management systems and to develop a statewide public safety data information-sharing infrastructure;
  • $2 million to fund the “Pathways from Prison to Employment” program;
  • $1.8 million for prison programs designed to help inmates maintain family relationships;
  • $1.5 million for body cameras for correctional officers; and
  • $1 million to expand work release programs.

[MORE: View the spreadsheet]

 

Amendments adopted

Mariani successfully offered an amendment that made technical fixes, but also modified several provisions, including those affecting probation systems, supervised release programs, and taxing and licensing restrictions on wine and alcohol distributers and suppliers.

Rep. Cedrick Frazier (DFL-New Hope) successfully offered an amendment that incorporated a recommendation made by Wilder Research in its March 2022 report of the state’s response to the civil unrest and rioting following the death of George Floyd in May 2020.

It would require that a “compliance review officer” be present at major public safety events, such as civil unrest and protest situations, to ensure that police officers on the scene do not violate policies that protect the civil rights of participants.

Rep. Donald Raleigh (R-Circle Pines) successfully offered an amendment that would appropriate $10 million in fiscal year 2023 for grants to municipalities and counties to train and certify public safety telecommunicators such as 911 dispatchers.

 

Failed amendments

Several amendments offered by Republicans fell on party-line votes.

Rep. Eric Lucero (R-St. Michael) unsuccessfully offered a “stand your ground” amendment that, during a state of emergency, would permit a person to use force, even superior force, against an attacker without first attempting to retreat.

Johnson unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would have changed the ways law enforcement agencies are reimbursed when they send officers to other jurisdictions under mutual-aid agreements.

Rep. Paul Novotny (R-Elk River) unsuccessfully offered an amendment that would have appropriated more money to fund police officer recruitment and retention, and another amendment that would have increased penalties for possession of fentanyl.

 

A bipartisasn 'thank you'

The party-line disagreements over bill content did not prevent the committee from honoring Mariani, who is retiring at the end of this session, his 16th term as a legislator.

At the suggestion of Rep. Heather Edelson (DFL-Edina), the committee marked the occasion of Mariani chairing his last regularly scheduled committee meeting with a round of applause, which turned into a standing ovation, which ended with House staff presenting him with a gavel mounted on a plaque.


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