GOP senator accuses DFL colleagues of ‘playing politics’ with her straw purchasing bill

Republican Sen. Julia Coleman says Democrats stalled her bill last year after it advanced in a key committee; DFLers voted it down on the Senate floor Thursday and now have their own version.

Sen. Julia Coleman speaks to the press Thursday about her bill to increase penalties for straw purchases. (Minnesota Senate Media/YouTube)

Could a bill that a Minnesota senator introduced and advanced with bipartisan support through a committee in the legislature last year have prevented the murder last month of two Burnsville police officers and a firefighter?

Sen. Julia Coleman wouldn’t say that outright. But she intimated during a press conference Thursday that her proposal, SF733, which would increase the penalty for an illegal straw purchase of a firearm from a gross misdemeanor to a felony, could make someone think twice.

“I can’t help but think what the woman who bought this man these firearms illegally would have thought if she knew the severity of the law in Minnesota was higher,” Coleman, a second-term Republican from Waconia, told media Thursday morning, just before she invoked a Senate rule to bring the bill to the floor for a vote, which was voted down by the DFL majority.

“We could have done something about this last year,” Coleman said. “We can do something about this today. And I will not stand here and let Democrats play political games, say Republicans can’t get a ‘win’ on this, stand on the graves of three men and play partisan politics while they abuse their power, when we can do something about this, today.”

Democrats expressed support one year ago, then bill stalled

During the 2023 legislative session, Coleman’s bill received a hearing in the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee.

Coleman told her colleagues during the March 23, 2023, hearing that “by raising the penalty for this crime to a felony I believe we will send a strong message to our prosecutors and law enforcement that the legislature intends for these crimes to be taken seriously, and that the penalty will be worth their time in investigation and prosecution.”

The proposal passed on a unanimous voice vote from all 10 members of the committee (six Democrats, four Republicans). But the bill never got a hearing at its next committee stop, and has been in legislative limbo for nearly a year.

That is until Coleman invoked a Senate rule (5.1) on Thursday and asked her colleagues to move the bill onto the General Register so it could receive a floor vote.

She made the claim earlier in the day during a press conference and that afternoon during an interview with WCCO Radio that Democrats have been and continue to “play partisan politics” over the bill and that her colleague Sen. Heather Gustafson, DFL-Vadnais Heights, introduced a bill that “cloned” Coleman’s bill in its language.

“What was explained to me by Sen. Gustafson is that Republicans can’t be the ones that pass this bill,” Coleman said. “That she will be copying my bill verbatim and be moving forward with it. They are standing on the graves of three men, three heroes, to score political points when this could have passed last year, and Democrats held it off.”

Gustafson told a media scrum on Thursday afternoon that she recalled the conversation differently.

“I don’t believe I said ‘a Republican can’t pass this bill,’” Gustafson said, according to KTTC News. “What I think I said was that I was willing and already had relationships in place with stakeholders. I’m in a better position to pass this bill.”

On Friday, the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee was scheduled to hear both Coleman’s and Gustafson’s identical bills “concurrently.”

During the Thursday floor debate over the issue, Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, asked his Democratic colleagues to oppose Coleman’s motion to give the bill a full vote on the Senate floor.

“I appreciate the sense of urgency and the desire to move a bill like this forward, and I am supportive of the policy behind it,” said Latz, who chairs the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee that unanimously approved the bill one year ago.

Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, asked his Democratic colleagues to oppose Coleman’s motion to give the bill a full vote on the Senate floor. (Minnesota Senate Media Services/YouTube)

Despite that, Latz asked Coleman if she would like the bill heard in his committee again, even as he made reference to the news that the girlfriend of the shooter had illegally purchased the guns for him that he used to murder Burnsville police officers Paul Elmstrand and Matthew Ruge, both 27, and 40-year-old fire medic Adam Finseth. Last week U.S. Attorney Andy Luger announced that Ashley Anne Dyrdahl has been federally charged with 11 felony counts related to those illegal straw purchases. The shooter, Shannon Cortez Gooden, was prohibited from possessing firearms.

“Since that time, of course, there have been some public incidents, and there has also been a fiscal evaluation on this,” Latz said. “So I think because the judiciary committee is going to be hearing a number of gun violence prevention bills tomorrow, this topic would fit in well with that and I think it is more appropriate for this to be returned to the judiciary committee for that purpose.”

Coleman turned down the offer and alleged that Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, has refused for the last year to give the bill a hearing in the Senate Finance Committee, its next scheduled stop. Marty serves as chair for that committee. Marty spoke to the bill on the Senate floor Thursday but did not explain why he never gave the bill a hearing last year or during the 2024 session.

Coleman reiterated her desire to see the bill passed immediately.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger announces charges on March 14, 2024, against Ashley Anne Dyrdahl. (U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota/Facebook)

“This motion is urgent because three heroes were murdered. And we have the ability to do something about it today,” Coleman said. “Not kick the can down the road. Not play political games, but do something about it today. And I urge members to vote to have this discussion right now.”

Coleman’s motion failed 34-33, on a party-line vote. The six Democrats who voted last year to support Coleman’s bill during its initial hearing include: Latz, Clare Oumou Verbeten and Sandy Pappas of St. Paul, Jim Carlson of Eagan, Bonnie Westlin of Plymouth and Judy Seeberger of Afton.

The saga over the issue in the Senate follows a debate in the House of Representatives last week that played out in a similar manner, where Republican lawmakers brought a motion to suspend House rules and declare an urgency to pass HF548, the companion to Coleman’s Senate bill.

“The DFL’s lack of urgency and repeated refusals to even give this bill a hearing is incomprehensible,” said Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, chief author of the House version. “I’ve advocated for and carried this bill for five years. The sobering question is, would our three fallen first responders be alive today if the bill had passed even last year?”

Democrats in the House on Thursday heard their own version of that bill that Rep. Kaela Berg, DFL-Burnsville, is authoring. Berg voted against Scott’s bill last week.


Hank Long

Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.