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RELEASE: Minnesota House Advances Public Safety, Judiciary and Civil Law Budget

Thursday, April 22, 2021

St. Paul, MN. Today, a day after the guilty verdict in the trial of the police officer charged with the killing of George Floyd, the Minnesota House of Representatives advanced a major finance bill containing Public Safety, Criminal Justice Reform, Judiciary and Civil Law legislation on a vote of 70-63. The legislation increases accountability for law enforcement while also increasing investments in public safety. Furthermore, it expands justice for survivors of sexual assault and helps to equip communities for keeping their neighborhoods safe. The bill also focuses on reducing racial bias, decriminalizes poverty, and ensuring that every Minnesotan faces equitable treatment under our justice system.

“It’s our responsibility to create the public safety structure, framework, and resources that respect everyone’s human dignity and rights. Despite yesterday’s verdict, we still have much work before us to achieve the meaningful change Minnesotans deserve,” said Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL – Saint Paul), Chair of the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Committee. “At its core, this bill is about building trust among all of us. By advancing greater police accountability, funding to make reforms possible, and centering equity and the voices of those who’ve experienced crimes, House DFLers are delivering guidance for a public safety system that reinforces strong and healthy community life for all Minnesotans.”

“I am proud of the work our committee accomplished under difficult circumstances and tight deadlines. We crafted a bill that takes into account the testimony of impacted citizens, advocates, and experts to create legislation that brings our justice system closer to our ideals of fairness and equity,” said Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL - Roseville) Chair of the House Judiciary & Civil Law Committee. “This bill makes systemic changes to reduce bias inherent in our current systems. I look forward to working with my Republican colleagues in the Senate so we can craft a bill that creates equitable justice for all Minnesotans.”

The legislation contains significant new investments in tools for law enforcement, including $14 million over the next four years for local police to issue body-worn cameras, reform-focused training, and updating policies. While including these important investments, it also builds upon the work of the Minnesota Police Accountability Act, enacted in 2020 following the killing of George Floyd, to further strengthen the police officer misconduct database in building a more effective early warning intervention system to eliminate and correct harmful practices. It also allows local units of government to establish civilian oversight councils and funds community organizations working to prevent crime in their communities while addressing the need for community healing after traumatic events. To prevent white supremacist causes from infiltrating law enforcement, the bill prohibits peace officers from associating with such hateful, intimidating, and often violent groups.

There are provisions that require the courts to consider the potential for financial hardship on Minnesotans before increasing fines or fees, ensuring that low-income Minnesotans aren’t punished disproportionately. Significantly, this bill contains critical legislation that prohibits employers from asking job applicants about their pay history, which is a critical step in closing the gender pay gap.

Through the inclusion of the “Clean Slate Act,” the legislation gives many Minnesotans “second chance” opportunities following incarceration. The measure would automatically expunge eligible low-level offenses after successfully completing a diversion program or a certain period of time without committing a new crime. The bill also includes the Minnesota Rehabilitation and Reinvestment Act, allowing those in prison to earn early release by successfully completing goals identified in their own Individualized Rehabilitation Plan. Other critical probation reforms that prioritize rehabilitation and treatment over incarceration are also included.

The bill includes a series of major updates to Minnesota’s criminal sexual conduct code recommended by a survivor-led working group established in a prior legislative session to address old approaches to these crimes which create barriers for survivors to receive justice. One such example closes the “voluntary intoxication” statutory loophole, which a recent Minnesota Supreme Court decision was forced to accept involving prosecuting a sexual assault case where the law deemed “mentally incapacitated” to not include a person who became intoxicated after voluntarily consuming alcohol. It also prevents sexual extortion and includes a series of measures to protect children.

“We said from the start that our public safety reforms last year were just the beginning. The House DFL budget takes strong steps to improve a criminal justice system that lacks sufficient police accountability measures and fails too many victims of sexual assault,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman. “We know that despite the guilty verdict in the Chauvin trial that our work is far from done. DFLers are committed to delivering safe communities and a fair justice system for all Minnesotans.” 

This legislation also contains important anti-hate reforms to increase the reporting, analyses, and training on crimes motivated by bias so Minnesotans can better understand and confront hate throughout the state. Increased funding for public defenders is provided so defendants can get the attention and aid required as part of their Constitutional rights. The bill also includes legislation to provide counsel to parents and guardians in child custody cases, which is designed to keep families together.

“One brief moment of accountability for the brutal murder of George Floyd by a police officer is not justice – it is a step in a long journey toward the public safety that serves all Minnesotans. It is a step towards the kind of public safety Minnesotans want,” said Majority Leader Ryan Winkler. “We have a Republican Senate that is out of touch with the pain and trauma so many are experiencing right now. Paul Gazelka can promise fact-finding hearings and play nice, but Minnesota Nice won’t prevent law enforcement from killing the next unarmed Black man. Democrats are going to insist that addressing systemic racism remains at the heart of Minnesota's public discussion.” 

Another provision in the Public Safety Budget invests $30 million to replenish Minnesota’s Disaster Assistance Contingency Account. The Disaster Assistance Contingency Account, signed into law in 2014, speeds up the recovery process for communities burdened with damages to public property and infrastructure like roads, utilities, and public buildings. Prior to the passage of the law, the Legislature was required to convene each time a disaster was declared in order to appropriate state money toward community recovery efforts, often in a special session.

The bill language is available here. The spreadsheet can be found here. A video recording of today’s floor debate is available on the House Public Information YouTube channel.

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