House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, foreground, speaks to reporters at the Capitol on Tuesday. (Photo: Kevin Featherly)


House GOP offers public safety measures; Mariani: They ‘come out of nowhere’


Will there be a government shutdown in 2021?

“I don’t know,” said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, during a Tuesday morning press conference at the Capitol. “I don’t believe so.”

But Daudt, the former Republican House Speaker, is nonetheless telling his caucus to prepare for a special session that lasts from June 14 through July 1, and possibly beyond, as House Democrats and Senate Republicans struggle to find common ground on a state-government budget deal.

Daudt’s date range is significant, because it hints at potentially growing odds of at least a brief state government shutdown.

If a budget is not passed by June 30—the end of the fiscal year—a shutdown would start the next day and thousands of state employees would be laid off. Lay-off notices, in fact, have already gone out.

It’s true that Daudt doesn’t have any particular say in whether a shutdown happens. As House minority leader, he is not even part of the ongoing negotiations.

But as one of the legislature’s four key caucus leaders, he has good channels of communication and a strong feel for how talks are progressing. And from his perspective, they aren’t going so great.

Daudt told reporters Tuesday it seems unlikely that agreements would be in place by Monday’s special-session launch.

“I think the heart of your question is, do you think a deal is going to get done?” Daudt told a reporter. “I think we’re a long ways apart.”

Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge, is the Republican lead on the House Public Safety committee, but he is not on the working group trying to hammer out an agreement. He said he had an hour-long conversation with Senate Public Safety Chair Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, on Monday night, but was not at liberty to share details of what he learned.

“There has not been much of any movement,” was all Johnson would say.


Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul (Photo: Kevin Featherly)


Mariani’s view

In a Tuesday afternoon interview with Session/Law, Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, the House Public Safety chair, laid to rest any doubt about the progress of the judiciary/public safety bill talks.

He said that while there are tentative agreements in a few isolated areas, he confirmed that progress has been very slow in the overall omnibus negotiations.

In fact, Mariani said, since the end of the regular session in mid-May, Senate negotiators have not responded to several DFL offers. The only answer he has gotten recently, Mariani said, is that his offers are “not serious.”

He disagrees. “In my mind, reasonable people could get to an agreement on this bill,” Mariani said. “The question is why is that not happening.”

The regular session ended on May 17 without resolving disagreements between the House public safety/judiciary omnibus and its significantly skinnier Senate counterpart.

They differed little in some areas, like pay raises for judges and court staff, a major rewrite of the sex-conduct criminal code and a restorative justice program for military veterans.

Funding for Corrections, the Public Defenders’ Office and the Human Rights Department, though not identical, also were roughly comparable.

But the sides are opposed in other areas. The DFL House version, for example, contains no funding for Senate-backed violent crime enforcement teams, meant to address crime on Metro Transit lines. And the Senate version includes no DFL-backed police reforms—the biggest bone of contention.

Among the scores of House-backed policing changes is a requirement that law enforcement release body-cam footage to a decedent’s family within 48 hours of a deadly-force incident. Another one limits the authority of cops to pull people over for expired license plate tabs. There is also a curb on no-knock warrants.

Other DFL House language requires the Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) board to develop model policies to ban white supremacists from the force and to protect the First Amendment rights of protesters on the street.

Yet another measure requires police chiefs and sheriffs to share certain private data about their officers with the POST Board, in part to help spot patterns of behavior that suggest an officer might be heading toward crisis.

Further, the DFL version provides state funding for law enforcement body cameras, something Mariani said the state has not done before. And it extends police training funds for another year, while boosting law enforcement pay.

“Our proposals, when it comes to police, anyway, are pretty middle-of-the-road and commonsense,” Mariani said. “It is frustrating,” he said of the stalled talks, “but on the other hand, I get that there are politics bigger than us.”


GOP proposals

The primary purpose of Tuesday’s House GOP press briefing was to introduce a list of public-safety alternatives to the House Democrats’ reform agenda.

But it was also an opportunity for Republicans to blast Democratic leadership for failing to respond to ongoing violent crime wave, which has seen the year-over-year Minneapolis homicide rate double during the first five months of 2021.

Here are the GOP proposals:

  • Calling on Gov. Tim Walz to deploy state troopers to assist in high-risk areas of Minneapolis. Governors Arne Carlson and Tim Pawlenty made similar moves in 1996 and in 2003, to curb previous spikes in violence.
  • Calling on Minneapolis to grow its police force, which is down at least 200 officers from recent years. The city has access to more than $80 million through the latest round of federal relief aid, which could be used for that purpose, Republicans said.
  • Expanding the use of ShotSpotter technology into more high-risk areas. The technology detects the sound of gunfire and conveys its location to law enforcement.
  • Making more use of Department of Justice, FBI and other crime-fighting task forces in the Twin Cities and beyond. Johnson said teaming task force officers with Minneapolis cops on patrol could effectively double MPD manpower.
  • Expanding use of the Group Violence Intervention program, which Daudt said has shown some success in Minneapolis.
  • Piloting the Community OutPost (COP) House program in the Twin Cities and statewide. According to the StarTribune, St. Cloud’s COP House has increased police presence and helped reduce burglaries, theft and liquor-law violations in the neighborhood where the facility was built. The same building also hosts medical and county human services.

But for all the policy talk, Tuesday’s press conference was also meant as a nod to electoral politics. Since the killing of George Floyd and the disorder that followed, Republicans have depicted Twin Cities leaders and state DFL lawmakers as foolish leftists whose leadership style is a shortcut to civil mayhem and criminal chaos.

“This isn’t a problem with radical extreme Minneapolis and St. Paul Democrats—this is the Democratic Party that has a core belief that that we should not be funding law enforcement,” Daudt said. “And that is 100 percent fair game in a campaign.”

Rep. Paul Novotny, R-Elk River, a former Sherburne County deputy sheriff, suggested that Democratic police policies are more a public relations pitch than a public safety reform. The DFL’s ideas, he said, would come at the expense of cops on the street.

“They are designed to intimidate and make the young officers—the men and women that are serving the state—second-guess their career choices,” Novotny said.

“There is no objective truth in that,” said Mariani, who added that such talk is “not helpful.”

House Republicans did say that they agree with Democrats that improving police-community relations is important, and even suggested they could support a few reforms that the House majority has offered. But they also insisted that police policy is not the main problem in need of fixing right now.

“We need—literally need—to stop the bleeding,” Novotny said. “The immediate issue that we have is we have to stop this cycle of violence.”

As to the new GOP proposals, Mariani said they “come out of nowhere.” It would have been more helpful, he said, had Senate Republicans introduced them months ago and given them hearings during the regular session.

Still, he did not dismiss their ideas out of hand. “This stuff could probably lead to bills that they could introduce, I suppose, in the special session,” Mariani said. “I mean, we’ll entertain them. Why not?”

But he admits he’s skeptical about the new proposals, given the vast array of policy items already on the table and the slowness of those talks.

“We’re supposed to be in the middle of negotiations and they’re not negotiating,” he said. “So, what’s the real story here? I don’t know.”


About that shutdown…

Daudt said one reason he thinks there likely wouldn’t be a hard government shutdown, even if a special session creeps up to July 1, is because lawmakers could simply pass a continuing appropriations, or “lights-on bill,” to keep government functioning.

“I think you’d end up with some sort of continuing appropriation at the current levels for a 30-day period, or something like that,” Daudt said, “before we would actually get to a hard shutdown.”

But that’s no slam dunk, according to Steven Schier, the Carleton College political science professor emeritus. “At this point, there is no bipartisan appetite for that,” Schier said. “That appetite would have to build based on the total shutdown of all public institutions.”

But even with a shutdown threat looming as a “gun to the head,” Schier said, a continuing appropriations bill might be hard for Democratic leaders to accept. It could eliminate any urgency to pass a real budget with the funding increases requested by state agencies and the Judicial Branch.

If government kept operating with funding equal to previous allocations, inflation would in time turn that into a budget cut. And while some Republicans might see a continuing appropriation as a way to curb government’s growth, a lot of Democrats would view it as cutting vital services.

“How you actually get to a budget agreement once you pulled the trigger on something like that is hard to see,” Schier said.

David Schultz, the Hamline University political science professor, agreed with Daudt that a hard shutdown is unlikely—but for different reasons. Schultz thinks the courts would step in and provide funding while negotiations continue, just as they have during past shutdowns.

Schultz says that’s likely true despite the Supreme Court’s ruling in the Ninetieth Minnesota State Senate v. Dayton case, which said the Judicial Branch would no longer serve as a financial safety valve by funding essential services when lawmakers fail to pass a budget.

If a shutdown were to come, courts would revert to form and order partial funding.

“At the end of the day, they are not going to say, ‘OK, we’re not going to fund the nursing homes, we’re not going to fund the prisons and we’re not going to fund the zoo,” Schultz said. “It’s not going to happen.”


Session/Law logo by Kirk Anderson