ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers this week failed to reach a compromise on funding for Twin Cities security preparations weeks before a high-stakes murder trial was set to start.
Without the proposed $35 million for emergency situations, the governor and law enforcement groups said planning work would continue but efforts to keep the peace in Minneapolis could be stunted. And legislative leaders went into private negotiations again after they clashed over the best way to support police departments while also ensuring accountability for keeping safe Minneapolis residents and demonstrators.
Legislators also scuffled over getting students back into the classroom as Gov. Tim Walz laid out a goal of getting all public school students back to in-person learning by next month. GOP lawmakers said all students should have the option to resume in-person learning right away and they passed a plan to yank Walz's authority to close schools during an emergency.
And in a first for the state, a recreational cannabis bill cleared a committee at the Capitol marking the first step for legalization in the state. But the measure still faces a tough road as it moves through the Legislature.
Here's a look at what happened this week at the Minnesota Capitol.
SAFE Act stalls then stumbles in the House
Minnesota representatives twice this week took up a proposal to set aside $35 million to pay mutual aid agreements to protect Twin Cities residents during the upcoming trial of ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the 2020 death of George Floyd.
And both times the plan fell short, leaving Democratic leaders in that chamber in a pinch to strike a new deal before next week when the bill could again come up for consideration.
As the March 8 start of the trial nears, law enforcement groups have urged legislators to pass the proposal to entice more police agencies to step in to support Minneapolis in keeping the peace throughout the trial. State and local law enforcement agencies have worked for months to prepare for possible civil unrest and expected thousands of police officers and National Guard soldiers would assist in securing the region.
But with widespread looting and rioting possible, public safety officials said they wanted all hands on deck to prepare.
Walz put a Feb. 8 deadline for lawmakers to pass the proposal and he said lawmakers' failure to pass it this week could further complicate planning and preparations.
"I asked the Legislature to help me keep Minnesotans safe," Walz said in a statement Thursday night, Feb. 18. "I will continue to work with law enforcement and community members to keep Minnesotans safe, but there's no doubt this disappointing vote will make our work more challenging."
House leaders late on Thursday said they'd keep working to find a proposal that could satisfy those who wanted to boost funding available to police departments, as well as those who had concerns about putting more resources toward law enforcement agencies that they felt had taken an overly tough tack against demonstrators over the summer.
Any agreement would also have to pass the Republican-led Senate. Members of that chamber on Monday put up and passed a separate plan that would let cities pull their reimbursements from another city's local government aid funds if they can't find funds to pay for their services elsewhere. Republicans in that chamber said it was important that Minneapolis be on the hook for repaying its bills, especially after city officials decreased the Minneapolis police department's budget.
March target to get all students back into the classroom
Walz on Wednesday announced a March 8 goal to get all students back in the classroom at least part-time as COVID-19 case rates, hospitalizations and deaths declined in the state and as more Minnesotans gained access to a vaccine.
Starting Monday, schools would be able to reopen to middle- and high-school students with masking, social distancing and reporting requirements for contact tracing. While about 80% of all students are in-person or hybrid structures now, Walz said all students would be able to get back into the classroom quicker as the state loosened requirements that grades return on a rolling basis rather than all at once.
The guidance for moving to face-to-face or hybrid learning also shifted. Previously, district officials had to work with state health experts to review county COVID-19 rates before making a transition. But now, districts can phase more students into schools even if county rates might've prevented in-person learning previously.
New state guidance calls for keeping track of COVID-19 and influenza symptoms within each school and targeting classes or grade levels for quarantine if 5% of those in the building report a possible illness.
State lawmakers welcomed the push to get more kids back in school but some said the approach was too little too late.
Republicans for months have called for students to resume in-person instruction and have criticized the Walz administration and teachers' unions for putting up barriers. And on Thursday, the Minnesota Senate passed a bill that would block the governor from closing schools or changing instructional schedules during a state of emergency.
Recreational marijuana bill makes a new stride
A legislative committee on Wednesday for the first time in state history advanced a proposal to legalize marijuana for adult use and expunge misdemeanor cannabis-related convictions from Minnesotans' records.
The proposal cleared the House Commerce Committee on a 10-7 vote on Wednesday, with all Democrats voting in favor and all Republicans voting against. While the vote is a step forward for cannabis legislation at the Capitol, the bill is set to face strong opposition from Republicans who control the Minnesota Senate.
GOP leaders have said they have concerns about legalizing cannabis for recreational use and wanted to prioritize COVID-19 response and budget-writing during the legislative session. Democrats who brought forward the plan said cannabis sales and use could be more safely regulated in a legal marketplace.
Walz has said he would sign the bill into law if it reached his desk. Fifteen states have voted to legalize recreational cannabis including South Dakota.