Money to nonprofits a key difference on public safety legislation

Published 8:59 am Monday, April 18, 2022

By Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio News

Gov. Tim Walz has been traveling the state promoting his plan for improving public safety in Minnesota.

With crime on the rise and state finances in strong shape, Walz said at a stop in Burnsville last week that he believes this is the time to act.

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“It’s not always about money,” Walz said. “But sometimes it is about money to communities.”

The governor’s proposal includes $300 million over three years for cities, counties and tribes to address public safety needs. That approach allows local officials to decide how the money can best be used, Walz says. Law enforcement agencies would get help to recruit and retain police officers and there would be more support for violent crime investigations.

Walz also wants to provide $15 million for community-based crime prevention grants, which could go to nonprofit groups that help fight crime.

The governor said the projected budget surplus provides an opportunity to try multiple things.

“There are going to be programs that work better than others and we should be willing to give communities the opportunity to experiment and innovate to see what’s working,” Walz said “And if we have programs that are working, we need to fund them.”

Senate Republicans are not taking the same approach. Their smaller public safety bill omits those nonprofit grants.

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, who chairs the Senate judiciary and public safety committee, said there have been concerns recently about the way some nonprofits have handled tax dollars. Limmer wants a system of accountability in place before he would consider a trial project.

“We use nonprofits all the time in other areas to address other social concerns,” Limmer said. “But on this one, nonprofits really haven’t been involved that much, and we just don’t have a track record. I think you have to establish a standard of accountability first before we start pouring tens of millions of dollars into the hands of people that we don’t know can do the job.”

The Republican approach focuses on recruiting more police officers. It also increases prison sentences for violent crimes, including carjacking, and targets repeat offenders.

House Democrats are on the same page as the governor when it comes to community-driven solutions to public safety. Their bill includes grants for community groups that work on crime reduction.

During a recent hearing, Ed Eiffler Jaramillo, political director of SEIU Local 26, spoke in support of the grants. He specifically highlighted the work of the Northside Residents Redevelopment Council, which is training safety specialists.

“These specialists are trained in advanced de-escalation tactics for tough and potentially violent situations as well as crisis intervention for dealing with people who are mentally ill or in a crisis state,” he said.

The Republican controlled Senate is poised to vote soon on its public safety bill. The House DFL bill is also nearing a vote. It will take a conference committee to then find a compromise between the two measures

Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, the chair of the House public safety committee, has been stressing the nonprofit approach for months.

“We take seriously the need to equip communities to use data and innovate with new solutions, not old ones, for new problems.”