ST. PAUL — A bill to fund law enforcement mutual aid agreements to protect Twin Cities residents during the upcoming trial of ex-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin next month failed in the state House by a 71-63 vote.
Democratic House leaders on Thursday, Feb. 18, unexpectedly revived their so-called SAFE Account bill, with just minutes' notice to reporters and the public. The three hour-long debate extended into the evening, mere days after leaders on Monday pulled the bill from the floor, lacking the votes even among the majority party for it to pass.
Immediately after the lawmakers voted down the bill, House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley, motioned to reconsider, to loud protest by lawmakers who were voting remotely due to the coronavirus pandemic. House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, upheld Winkler's motion, reviving the bill. Winkler promptly then tabled it, again to many vocal protests.
Minutes before the lawmakers voted, House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, made the case to put off the final vote until next week, calling into question once again whether the bill had the votes to pass the House. The Republican-controlled Senate has stood firm against the SAFE Account bill, originally proposed by Gov. Tim Walz, dubbing it a “bail-out” for Minneapolis.
Daudt on the floor spoke to the urgency of funding the $35 million proposal, which would help pay for backup policing in Minneapolis during any violent uprisings throughout the trial. The SAFE Account could also be applied to outbreaks of violence in other Minnesota cities, if they happen in the future.
The state's three major law enforcement groups — the Police and Peace Officers, Police Chiefs and Sheriffs Associations — have voiced their support Walz's original language. Ahead of Thursday evening's debate, they sent a letter of support to House leadership for the bill in its current form, including an amendment by state Rep. Carlos Mariani, D-St. Paul, which they previously opposed.
"Supporting public safety and law enforcement efforts, first amendment rights, and the shared priorities of public safety for all, is bipartisan," the groups wrote.
Harking on law enforcement's support of the bill, Daudt on the floor Thursday said passing the SAFE Account is "the right thing to do."
"Whether you agree with the politics or not of what has happened in Minneapolis, or whether you think the governor responded in the right way or the wrong way -- erase it. Forget about it," he told fellow lawmakers. "Because in two weeks, there’s going to be a trial starting and we could have an event equal to or greater than what happened last May. And I personally don't want to see that happen again."
But later in the debate, Daudt said the bill needs more time, and House members should have a strong, unified position to help send a message to the reluctant state Senate. Asking majority leaders to table the bill again, he said leaders should “let cooler heads prevail” and negotiate in private over the weekend.
Winkler retorted that the bill as it stood “is the cooler heads bill,” resulting from a “great deal of compromise.” With the trial less than three weeks away, Winkler urged lawmakers, “We don't have time to wait any longer.”
With the bill revived through Winkler's legislative maneuvering, lawmakers can continue tweaking it in order to win over enough votes for it to pass.
On the Republican side of the aisle, Daudt said in a written statement following the failed vote that he "hope(s) the majority will reconsider their approach, and work with us (Republicans) to strike a compromise bill that can pass the House.”
In Democrats' written statement Thursday night, Mariani said, "The trial of former officer Derek Chauvin is just days away, and we will continue working on a solution to deliver the necessary resources in preparation for this major event.”
Contact Sarah Mearhoff at firstname.lastname@example.org or 610-790-4992.
An earlier version of this story had the incorrect vote total. The correct vote was 71-63.