Minnesota officials clash on security plan for Chauvin trial

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Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz answers a question from a reporter during a news conference to debut his state budget plan for the next two years Tuesday, Jan. 26, 2021 at the Department of Revenue building in St. Paul, Minn. (Anthony Souffle/Star Tribune via AP)

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Minnesota politicians clashed Wednesday over who should pay for security during next month’s murder trial of the former police officer who pressed his knee into George Floyd’s neck, a proceeding certain to bring the city heightened attention and the potential for more unrest.

Democratic Gov. Tim Walz highlighted a proposed $35 million State Aid for Emergencies account that would reimburse local governments for “unplanned or extraordinary public safety events.” The funding is aimed at helping law enforcement prepare for protests over the trial starting March 8 for Derek Chauvin, the white officer who pressed his knee into the neck of Floyd, a Black man who was handcuffed and pleading for air.

“If we’re not able to put this account in place, it hampers plans that have been being made for these trials for months,” the governor said at a news conference. “This is an opportunity for Minnesota to put a face forward to the world to show that we can protect First Amendment rights and we can make sure that public safety is adhered to.”

The proposal has drawn resistance from rural Republicans who say their communities shouldn’t be forced to “bail out” Minneapolis and St. Paul. GOP Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said in a statement Wednesday that his caucus will introduce an alternative plan later this week that would reimburse law enforcement agencies for mutual aid “without taking general fund dollars away from education, healthcare, or transportation.”

“We are not going to bail out (the) Minneapolis city council after they have made cuts to the public safety budget,” he said. “Actions to defund the police have consequences.”

House Republicans echoed Gazelka’s statement at a news conference of their own, saying the proposed fund does not address what they see as the increasing demonization of law enforcement.

The governor was criticized by Republicans last summer for not sending in the National Guard sooner to quell unrest that turned violent in Minneapolis and St. Paul after Floyd’s death sparked worldwide protests.

Public Safety Commissioner John Harrington said the state is coordinating with the FBI and the federal Joint Terrorism Task Force, in addition to more than 200 chief law enforcement officers across the state, to prepare for next month’s trial. Harrington said the proposed fund would help reimburse law enforcement agencies from other parts of Minnesota, which he said are willing to send personnel but concerned about the extra costs.

The House public safety committee approved the proposal Tuesday, with an additional provision requiring law enforcement agencies to follow a model policy created by the state’s police licensing board for responding to protests. While Walz said he hopes the proposal can get approved by Monday to give agencies time to prepare, the bill does not yet have a companion in the GOP-controlled Senate.

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