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'Different Philosophical Approaches': GOP, DFL At Minn. Capitol Diverge On Public Safety Plans

ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) -- A key Senate Republican legislature said he disagreed with a core piece of a DFL crime-fighting proposal that giving state funds to community groups, an example of how deeply divided the two parties are in their approach to public safety and a signal of the long road ahead to reach a compromise.

A GOP large public safety bill unveiled in the Senate Friday, which includes many pieces of different proposals, is just shy of $200 million, said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, chair of the Senate judiciary committee. It has millions for police retention and recruitment bonuses, establishes a new carjacking crime and stiffer penalties, and creates a searchable database for the public to find criminal sentences stayed or imposed by the courts, among other provisions.

"Minnesota is experiencing a drastic increase in violent crime across our state and criminals are not being held accountable for their crimes," Limmer said.

Senate Republicans' plan diverges from a $150 million updated package from Democrats with "innovative" public safety solutions that don't rely just on increasing the number of police officers in communities.

"Despite the GOP narrative, we cannot hire our way out of this problem. We need to innovate our way out," said Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope, the bill's chief author.

House Democrats, which control the chamber, recently added $50 million on top of their initial plan and made some changes. But still the heart of the plan provides state funds community groups focusing on crime prevention work. Among the provisions are grants to local governments experiencing high rates of crime to expand or create partnerships for victim services, homelessness assistance, and community violence interruption programs, to name a few.

"What we've learned is that we cannot solve the problems of crime if we only keep doing the same things repeatedly," said Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, chair of the House public safety committee. "And if we ignore the need to powerfully fund both or community interventions and ways to increase law enforcement's capacity for fairness, capacity for effectiveness and capacity for efficiency,"

The largest share of grant funding in the House DFL bill is off-limits for law enforcement agencies, though there is some additional funding available to hire more officers to patrol neighborhoods outside squad cars to boost community relations with police and money to fund body cameras.

Limmer said Friday there are no similar grant funds for community groups in his public safety proposal and he was skeptical of using taxpayer money to support them.

"It's not that I'm not a big fan of nonprofits. Right now, we don't have a long history of nonprofits carrying on that kind of work," he said. "I think we have to establish a standard of accountability first before we start pouring tens of millions of dollars into the hands of people that we don't know can do the job."

He cited a report from the Minnesota Reformer which detailed how Communities United Against Police Brutality sued six nonprofits getting money from the city of Minneapolis for their programs, calling it a "right-to-know" lawsuit after its president, Michele Gross, asked the groups for invoices and records and got no response.

"We have a right as taxpayers to know what the hell these guys are doing with this money," Gross told the Reformer.

Republicans are poised to vote their public safety omnibus bill in the Senate some time next week, which would be one of the first—if not the first—budget bill to advance. He noted that it will take some time to iron out differences with DFL colleagues in the House to come to an agreement.

"We come at this problem with two different philosophical approaches," he said.


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