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Judiciary and public safety conference committee begins with ‘good discussion’ of major differences

Sen. Warren Limmer, left, and Rep. Carlos Mariani confer during the first meeting of the omnibus public safety policy and supplemental appropriations conference committee May 10. (Photo by Paul Battaglia)
Sen. Warren Limmer, left, and Rep. Carlos Mariani confer during the first meeting of the omnibus public safety policy and supplemental appropriations conference committee May 10. (Photo by Paul Battaglia)

After Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove) banged the gavel a little after 9 a.m. Tuesday to call to order the omnibus judiciary and public safety supplemental budget bill conference committee, he outlined the three major focal points of the Senate’s position.

He said the Senate bill focuses on supporting law enforcement agencies and officers, increasing penalties for violent crimes, and requiring county prosecutors to be more vigorous in prosecuting accused criminals.

That was followed by four House DFL conferees who basically said the bill produced by the Republican-led Senate was shortsighted and missed real opportunities for sustained investments in community-based support and intervention programs that have been proven to reduce crime rates.

House positions include police accountability reforms to increase trust in law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system, plus money to fund community-based crime-prevention programs such as grants for prevention, intervention, mental health and wellness of at-risk juveniles.

That prompted Limmer to say, “We came in as a lamb, and we’re going out as a lion, but nevertheless, I think we’ll have a good discussion.”

Conferees are tasked with resolving the differences between the omnibus bill passed by the House April 29 and the Senate version (view summary) passed by that body April 25.

The committee took no votes on adopting provisions from the two omnibus bills, but Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL-St. Paul), who sponsors HF4608/SF2673* with Limmer, said he expects the committee could adopt some “same or similar” provisions perhaps as early as Wednesday's gathering.

But time is tight.

Limmer said Republicans would not be available to meet on Friday or Saturday due to the party’s state convention in Rochester.


Some common ground on judicial funding

Both sides agree the judicial system needs more money to rectify years of underfunding.

Each version includes a 6% salary increase for judges and staff at the Supreme Court, District Courts, and Court of Appeals. And both would appropriate $50 million in fiscal year 2023 — plus another $100 million in the 2024-25 biennium — to increase salaries of public defenders and hire more of them.

However, only the House version would boost funding for Legal Aid attorneys: $47.94 million in fiscal year 2023.

The two bills differ in additional supplemental spending: the House $340 million in fiscal years 2022-23, $134 million more than the Senate.

[MORE: View the spreadsheet]


Senate-only funding and policy provisions

The Senate focuses on taking immediate and “vitally important” steps to counter the steep increase in violent crime across the state, especially in the Twin Cities, Limmer said.

The Senate plan puts more money into supporting the men and women who keep our communities safe, holds violent and career criminals accountable for their actions, and creates a more transparent and accountable criminal justice system,” Limmer said.

Notable funding provisions appearing only in the Senate version include:

  • $47 million for police retention bonuses;
  • $20 million for police recruitment bonuses;
  • $5 million to invest in the Minnesota State system and their police skills training programs;
  • $2 million for a gunfire detection system for the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department; and
  • $2 million for Violent Crime Enforcement Teams statewide.

Notable Senate-only policy provisions include those that would:

  • create a new crime of organized retail theft;
  • establish a standalone crime of carjacking;
  • make penalties for fentanyl possession the same as those for heroin;
  • establish new mandatory minimum sentences for certain violent crimes; and
  • establish the crime of fleeing a peace officer in a motor vehicle while operating the vehicle in a culpably negligent manner.


House-only funding and policy provisions

Notable funding provisions appearing only in the House version include:

  • $55 million in emergency community safety grants;
  • $25 million in local community policing grants;
  • $10 million in co-responder (“violence interrupter”) grants;
  • $4 million in victim support programs;
  • $2.5 million for the Department of Human Rights; and
  • $2.5 million in youth wellness support and mental health programs.

Notable House-only policy provisions include those that would:

  • prohibit technology companies from selling or disseminating educational data and using it for any commercial purposes;
  • require manufacturers to make parts, documentation and diagnostic tools for digital electronic equipment available to independent repair providers or the equipment owner;
  • make it unlawful to limit a patients access to an organ transplant based on a patients race and ethnicity;
  • prevent employers, including labor unions and employment agencies, from requesting a job applicants pay history; and
  • permit law enforcement officers to attach a mobile tracking device to a stolen vehicle without prior court approval if the owner of the vehicle grants consent or has reported to law enforcement that the vehicle was stolen.


Some common ground on police body cameras

Both versions contain funding for local law enforcement agencies to purchase body cameras to be worn by police offices while on duty.

The Senate would appropriate $5 million for grants to local law enforcement agencies for the purchase of body-worn cameras and storing the video images captured by them. It would require a 25% local match.

The House would provide $15 million, but would require body camera footage be released to families within five days after a deadly force incident and to the public within 14 days.

The House would also appropriate $1.5 million for body cameras for correctional officers working in state prisons.

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