ST. PAUL — Minnesota senators on Wednesday, Feb. 10, moved forward a plan to require cities to pull local government aid funds if they're on the hook for paying back police agencies called in to help in a crisis.
The step comes a day after a gunman in Buffalo, Minn., shot and killed one at an Allina Health clinic and left several others wounded, drawing a statewide law enforcement response. And it runs counter to a proposal from the Walz administration to put $35 million into a state account that could help cities pay down policing bills in an emergency ahead of a high profile trial next month.
The fatal shooting was front and center during the debate over the Republican-backed plan Wednesday as public safety officials pointed to the number of state and local agencies that responded to the incident.
"Just yesterday the community of Buffalo experienced an unthinkable tragedy," Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce President Jonathan Weinhagen said. "Communities around our state, including Minneapolis, rushed to the scene to assist. They didn't haggle over price or terms, they just showed up because that's what Minnesotans do."
State and local public safety officials have spent months preparing for civil unrest around the trials of ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin who faces murder charges following the killing of George Floyd in May 2020. And law enforcement groups said they hope to see a state funding package passed as soon as possible to help them kickstart planning efforts before jury selection in the trial starts March 8.
And one warned that asking cities to fund excess law enforcement costs through local aid funds would lead city police agency heads to pump the brakes on calling in reinforcements out of deeper budget worries.
"It may cause me to pause and think about, do I really want to call in mutual aid? Do I want to call in additional resources if I know that on the back end I'm likely to see my budget cut?" Minnesota Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said. "That hesitation, that moment of pause before picking up the phone and calling in that mutual aid has potentially disastrous consequences."
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The bill's supporters said state funds shouldn't be used to offset local needs in Minneapolis since officials there approved a budget that included a decrease in funding for the Minneapolis Police Department. And instead, they said agencies called in to help should be ensured they'll have a Minneapolis fund to tap if they require reimbursement.
“I think that providing this assurance helps to give comfort in that respect that their communities would be made whole and hopefully will then also ensure that they will sign their mutual aid agreements and respond when and if called upon," Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, said, noting agencies told him they were never repaid for responding to riots in the Twin Cities. "If the city council had not defunded their city council for $8 million, this might not even be up for discussion."
Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arrandondo said he expected the city would require mutual aid from other agencies for the foreseeable future as he continued to oversee a depleted police force. And with 28 days until the trial is set to start Harrington, of the Department of Public Safety, and Democratic lawmakers on the panel said the proposal could jeopardize state and local police response to civil unrest.
"I think that this is a significant shift in policy, it is a significant shift in expectations for communities and what we are willing to do for one another," Sen. Erin Murphy, D-St. Paul, said.
The measure advanced from the Senate Subcommittee on Property Taxes Wednesday on a 3-2 vote with all Republicans voting in favor and Democrats against. It will move next to the full Senate Tax Committee on Thursday before potentially coming up for a vote on the Senate floor.