Minnesota Senate passes public safety package

The bill seeks to harshen sentences, fund police departments and bring transparency to a shadowy committee that decides how criminals can be sentenced in Minnesota.

The Minnesota State Capitol building (Minnesota Department of Administration/Flickr)

The Minnesota Senate soundly passed a comprehensive Republican public safety bill with a 48-19 vote Monday.

“This bill will provide the necessary resources to support our law enforcement, provide accountability and transparency in the judicial system, and hold criminals accountable,” said Sen. Warren Limmer, the bill’s author.

Not only will the bill help police crack down on criminals, it will also encourage lackadaisical prosecutors to take a more active role against criminals.

“Too many criminals have been allowed to re-offend by prosecutors who aren’t prosecuting,” Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller added. “Criminals need to be held accountable for their actions.”

For police 

The bill provides $3,000 to all police officers and another $7,000 to those who are nearing the age of retirement to entice them to stay on the force. This comes as the Minneapolis Police Department continues to lose staff. Local jurisdictions would also be funded to provide hiring bonuses under the new bill and meritorious officers would be given extra pay when they “go above and beyond the call of duty.”

Various types of ongoing education for police would also be funded.

Against criminals

The comprehensive bill includes about a dozen measures designed to get tough on crime.

One of these seeks to address organized retail theft “by defining this crime in state statute and giving law enforcement better tools and updated laws to pursue these crime rings.” Another pair of provisions would crack down on carjacking by establishing minimum sentences of 2-4 years (depending on the specifics of the offense) and requiring law enforcement agencies to report data on carjackings.

Heavier penalties for fleeing police, a new technology for testing if drivers are under the influence of drugs and enhancements to air patrol above Ramsey County are also included.

Accountability and transparency

“To respond to growing instances of violent criminals becoming repeat offenders and frequent decisions by prosecutors and judges to go easy on criminals, this bill takes several steps to improve transparency for the decisions that lead to early releases and failures to charge to the fullest extent possible,” Senate Republicans explained in a press release.

One key measure includes limiting the funding available to nonprofits that seek to replace the police.

“In the past two years, there have been reports about violence interrupters tasked to work with law enforcement to de-escalate situations by non-profits who have themselves violently harmed other individuals,” Republicans said, calling to mind an especially high-profile example of a “peace activist” who beat a homeless man.

The bill also seeks to bring clarity to how the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission (MSGC) works. The MSGC is a committee of political appointees selected by the governor who decide what sentences judges should pursue for various crimes. Under the new bill, the MSGC’s meetings can all be made public.

Perhaps most notably, the bill seeks to mandate that felons serve three-quarters of their sentence, rather than the two-thirds that is currently required, behind bars before making parole.

The Senate-authored bill will face challenges getting through the DFL-controlled House and getting Gov. Tim Walz’s signature.