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Negotiations over Twin Cities trial funding continue as compromise remains elusive

Lawmakers said discussions over a possible compromise would continue over the weekend, with the clock ticking down to jury selection in the trial.

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Protestors chant for justice in front of police presence in response to the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis Police custody on Friday, May 29, 2020, throughout downtown Rochester. (Traci Westcott / twestcott@postbulletin.com)
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ST. PAUL — After weeks of political back-and-forth at the Minnesota Capitol, a compromise plan remained elusive Thursday morning as a Senate panel pushed forward a $15 million bill to fund security around a high-profile murder trial.

The Senate Finance Committee on a voice vote advanced a bill to reimburse local law enforcement agencies when they require backup in disaster situations. But gaps remained between the GOP plan and a proposal put forth by the Walz administration and law enforcement groups.

The GOP bill sets up a review process to decide whether a city should get funding from the $15-million account and, if passed, it would close out a State Aid for Emergencies (SAFE) account in 2023 unless lawmakers extend it.

Lawmakers moved the bill a little more than a week before jury selection is set to start in the trial of Derek Chauvin, an ex-Minneapolis police officer charged with second-degree murder in the death of George Floyd. State and local public safety groups urged legislators to make funds available ahead of the trial but so far leaders in the divided Statehouse have been unable to strike a deal.

“At the end of the day, I believe that this bill accomplishes those things that we need to accomplish in regards to the potential problems that are may be upcoming,” the bill's author Sen. Bill Weber, R-Luverne, said.

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Democrats flagged provisions in the bill Thursday, Feb. 25 that could blow up bipartisan negotiations planned for this weekend and they said they wouldn't support adding a condition that "civil disorder" not be covered by the funding or that requirements around deadly use of force by police officers be delayed.

“This is not going to solve the problem, it creates unrelated problems,” Sen. John Marty, D-Roseville, said. “I’m disappointed in the bill.”

RELATED: Minnesota leaders go back to the drawing board after security funding bill falls short Public safety officials have spent months planning for civil unrest in the Twin Cities during the March trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, and urged lawmakers to pass a plan to put $35 million toward repaying agencies that volunteer to help.
Minnesota House votes down, then immediately revives SAFE Account bill in surprise vote The move comes days after House leadership suddenly tabled the bill, lacking the votes to pass it.
Minneapolis to see thousands of police officers, Guard soldiers during George Floyd death trial In a news conference Wednesday, Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey said the city has been working with "painstaking detail" to craft public safety plans for the trial.
Preparations for the trial have continued without the requested funding and state public safety officials said police departments from around the state had signed on to assist if civil unrest materialized in Minneapolis or elsewhere. But Walz earlier this week said the absence of a state law enforcement fund had forced a pivot in state planning efforts.

"My administration’s law enforcement leaders have dedicated considerable time to encourage passage of a solution, but they must now turn their attention to pressing public safety concerns," the governor wrote in a letter to legislative leaders on Monday, Feb. 22. " They no longer have time to do both."

Walz last month put out a $35 million plan to fund emergency law enforcement costs related to the trials or any other issues that might arise later in the city or elsewhere. That plan came up for consideration in the House of Representatives but an amended version failed to pick up support from Republicans and a handful of Democrats there.

In the Senate, meanwhile, Republicans and a handful of Democrats and Independents passed a proposal that would require cities to tap into their local government aid funds to repay mutual aid agreements. The bill's supporters said Minneapolis shouldn't get a bailout after city council members voted to decrease their funding to police.

Committee Chair Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, on Thursday said private negotiations around a compromise bill would continue through the weekend. “This path is not complete yet," she said.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com .

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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