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Violent crime fight takes spotlight in Minnesota politics

Both Democrats and Republicans put forward proposals to curb violence in the Twin Cities metro area weeks before the 2022 legislative session was set to start.

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Minnesota Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, on Friday, Jan. 14, 2022, spoke to reporters at the Capitol about proposed legislation aimed at preventing crime.
Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL — Weeks before the kickoff of the 2022 legislative session, lawmakers on both sides of the political aisle said they would prioritize plans to prevent violent crime.

In the last couple of years, public safety debates at the Capitol in St. Paul have centered on rewriting policing laws following the deaths of George Floyd and Daunte Wright at the hands of police officers.

But following a surge of violent crime in the Twin Cities and surrounding suburbs, both Democrats and Republicans have said public safety legislation would be a priority in 2022.

In a pair of news conferences last week, GOP lawmakers highlighted record reports of carjacking and murder in the Twin Cities metro area last year. And they said the Legislature should step in to promote solutions.

“There are many problems confronting Minnesotans but the No. 1 problem is the rise of violence and property crime in the Twin Cities,” said Sen. Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake.

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Gazelka is one of seven GOP candidates vying for the party's endorsement in the governor's race. And he was one of a handful of Republican state lawmakers to press for policy changes this week after the Minnesota Sentencing Guideline Commission considered a plan to eliminate a criminal history point if someone commits an offense while in police custody.

Gazelka and Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, on Friday, Jan. 14, said they would bring forward bills that set mandatory minimum penalties for carjacking that ranged between two and six years. They said the state should also have a mandatory minimum for those who commit a repeat offense with a firearm.

The pair also pushed for using part of the state's nearly $8 billion budget surplus to create signing bonuses for people who become police officers, particularly in "high crime" areas. And they proposed requiring prosecutors to charge 16- and 17-year-old suspects as adults in some instances.

“In Tim Walz’s Minnesota, there are now too many young hardened criminals terrorizing and victimizing residents of the core cities and suburbs," Gazelka told reporters at the Capitol.

Under current law, 16- and 17-year-olds can be tried as adults if a judge determines they meet certain criteria.

A day earlier, Sen. Warren Limmer, a Maple Grove Republican, said lawmakers would consider limiting the authority of the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission after members in 2020 set a probation cap of five years.

Limmer also took aim at commission members and Twin Cities prosecutors, saying that they weren't upholding the sentences that legislators wrote into law.

"We pass laws in the Legislature that are meant to be followed and meant to be upheld, not just by citizens, but by the criminal justice officials that the governor appoints," Limmer said.

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Democrats in the Legislature have also said they'll push measures aimed at curbing crime during the 2022 legislative session. But they took a different tack, putting forward a $100 million plan to boost community crime prevention, add additional foot patrols and build up trust in police departments.

In a column published in the Minneapolis Star Tribune, Rep. Cedrick Frazier , DFL-New Hope, wrote that GOP lawmakers have stood in the way of proposed spending hikes for public safety in the past. But he hoped the current climate would bring lawmakers together.

"When crime is trending upward in our own backyards, we need to solve the problem and address its root causes," Frazier said. "I am bringing this package forward because Minnesota needs an innovative, nonpartisan, research-based solution that meets the scale of the problem."

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, told Forum News Service that Democrats proposed to "spend significantly more than Republicans" on funding law enforcement agencies. And additional state dollars, not just new policies, were needed to help police tackle a surge in crime, she said.

DFL state senators have also proposed boosting bonuses for law enforcement officers and setting new penalties for people that assault health care workers.

Lawmakers are set to return to the Capitol for the 2022 legislative session on Jan. 31.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com

Related Topics: GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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