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Legislative criminal justice proposals spark political conflict

| Mar 3, 2020 | Criminal Defense

The beginning of the legislative session in Minnesota often provides previews of the issues that will become battlegrounds for the state’s two political parties. Generally, the Republicans allege that the DFL are not being tough enough on crime, and the DFLers counter by arguing that the Republicans are trying to politicize the issues. This year is no different, but the tone and volume of the debate seem to be more intense than usual.

Shortly before the legislature officially convened, the Republican Party presented several legislative proposals under the banner “Safety in our Cities.” The proposes include increased funding for Metropolitan Transit Police to combat an alleged increased in crime on the region’s light rail and bus systems. Republicans are also pointing at public sports and entertainment facilities by requiring that any city that hosts such a facility provide an “adequate” number of police officers near those venues when they are in use. The penalty for failure would be a loss of Local Government Aid. Senate Majority Leader Kurt Daudt supported the proposals by stating that everyone has the right to “feel safe” when they visit one of those facilities.

Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey attended the press conference at which the proposal were launched, and he took serious issue with the Republicans claims. He claimed that House Republicans were using misinformation to support their proposals. He also criticized the Republicans for not reaching out to local governments to explain and discuss their ideas.

St. Paul mayor Melvin Carter also criticized the Republican proposals. (Both Frey and Carter are Democrats.) Carter called the GOP proposals “cheap and misleading political games.”

One of the Republicans’ major targets is gang-related crime. The proposal provides additional penalties for gang members who use a firearm when committing a crime. The proposed legislation also provides additional funding for the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to investigate gangs and their involvement in drug trafficking.

The likely focus of the legislative quarrels to come is the fight over funding additional safety measures for public transportation. The Metropolitan Transit commission reported a 35% increase in violent crime on buses and light rail. Minneapolis Mayor Frey has said he will add a new recruitment class of cadets; that measure is estimated to add 20 to 40 officers to the force.

Perhaps the extent of the parties’ differences was captured in an exchange between Mayor Frey and a former police officer who now represents the town of Clearbrook. When Mayor Frey asked the legislator to “tell the truth,” the officer said “Don’t touch me and stop lying.”

No major changes in the state’s criminal justice system seem imminent, but the sparring between Republicans and Democrats will nevertheless last for most of the legislative session.

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