Minnesota House Republicans Wanted To Remove Limitations On How To Spend The $300 Million Public Safety Money


St. Paul, Minnesota. Last year, state lawmakers provided a $300 million one-time funding infusion to boost local public safety efforts. However, there were some restrictions on how money may be used, such as not rebuilding a police station or purchasing armored vehicles.

These constraints have become a fresh flashpoint in a public safety debate in the Minnesota Legislature this week.

House Republicans want Democrats, who hold the majority, to reconsider the funding restrictions, noting the tragedy in Burnsville last month in which three first responders were slain responding to a domestic incident.

Rep. Jeff Witte, R-Lakeville, attempted and failed on Tuesday to amend a bill requiring reports on how local governments spend the funding to include that modification.

“My bill and amendment will lift the restrictions and untie the hands of our law enforcement leaders, our police chiefs and sheriffs, and trust them that they know what they need to keep our community safe,” Witte said during a press conference promoting public safety goals on Wednesday.

The hearing on Tuesday became contentious, forcing one legislator to jump up and leave the room. Rep. Aisha Gomez, DFL-Minneapolis, a major negotiator on the tax plan that includes the $300 million for public safety, fought back against the attempt. She described the measure as “a solution in search of a problem,” accusing Republicans of politicizing the subject.

According to her, funding constraints are tight, and the language governing how the money can be spent is permissive.

“No law enforcement agency in Minnesota has received this money and called us to say, ‘Man, we’re really having trouble figuring out how to spend it.'” “It isn’t a thing,” Gomez told the panel Tuesday.

The public safety aid, which is distributed to cities, counties, and tribal governments, became available in December. Local governments are already planning how to spend it.

When asked Wednesday if he had heard from any law enforcement agencies interested in using the funding for armored vehicles, Witte, a veteran police officer, said he had received calls in recent days following Burnsville and an incident last week in Oakdale.

“They didn’t see the need because it was not included in the bill. It was not allowed. So law enforcement hasn’t asked, but they’re definitely discussing now,” he added.

Witte’s proposal is one of several public safety-related legislation that Republicans hope Democrats would introduce in committee before a key deadline at the end of the week.

They noted that the capitol’s political makeup—the DFL controls the House, Senate, and governor’s office—makes it an uphill battle, but vowed to fight nevertheless.

However, one of their long-term goals will be to get a hearing. Republicans have attempted to increase penalties for straw purchasers, or those who buy a gun for someone who is not permitted to own one or who does not want their name associated with the transaction. Under present law, it is a serious misdemeanor. Rep. Kaela Berg, DFL-Burnsville, has proposed a bill to elevate the penalty to a felony punishable by up to two years in jail and a $10,000 fine.

If the gun is used in a violent crime, the person could face a five-year prison sentence and a $20,000 fine. The proposal will be discussed by the House Public Safety Committee on Thursday morning.

“If they want to clone [the bill] and get it done, we’ll do anything we can to close the straw purchase bill. During Wednesday’s press conference, Rep. Paul Novotny, R-Elk River, stated, “That is our goal.”

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