ST. PAUL, MN – Today the Senate passed a comprehensive public safety bill, said Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer (R-Big Lake). The Republican Senate bill provides critical funding to hold criminals accountable and keep Minnesota communities safe. It focuses on all aspects of the criminal justice system and the courts, including youth intervention, criminal laws, sentencing guidelines, police, prosecutors, public defenders, judges, prisons and probation.
There are three main purposes in the bill: to provide law enforcement recruitment and retention support; tougher penalties for criminal activity; and increase transparency and accountability in legal actions and prosecutions.
This bill includes a bill drafted by Kiffmeyer to increase funding for training county prosecutors in trial court.
Since the early 1980s, the Minnesota County Attorneys Association (MCAA) received semi-annual statutory appropriations for prosecutor training. This funding has enabled the MCAA to train thousands of attorneys and offer more than 900 accredited courses.
“It is imperative that the MCCA continue these important trainings, such as the highly popular Test School training, which uses audio-visual equipment to provide instant video review capability,” said Kiffmeyer. “County prosecutors’ offices are also currently experiencing a shortage of experienced candidates due to the sharp increase in retirements. For this reason, additional funding is needed for subjects for new prosecutors and to ensure that additional training is available to respond to case law updates and emerging issues. Investing in local training for county prosecutors is better than having prosecutions handled by the attorney general’s office.
Under this bill, a grant of $100,000 will be allocated in fiscal year 2023 for the training of MCCA trial courts and law enforcement. This grant funds several annual seminars so that new junior prosecutors can learn from experienced county prosecutors. The basic appropriation for this will then be $200,000 for each of fiscal years 2024 and 2025 and thereafter.
Law enforcement support
The bill contains provisions aimed at addressing key issues currently facing Minnesota law enforcement officers: recruitment, retention, education and training, and equipment.
“The work of our law enforcement officers is essential to maintaining law and order and addressing the rise in crime in our state,” said Kiffmeyer. “I am so grateful to those who put their lives on the line to protect ours. Protecting the public from crime must be a universal, everyday priority, and the Republican Senate’s comprehensive public safety bill includes key provisions to ensure that.
The bill includes two provisions already passed by the Senate this year. The first is funding for the Department of Public Safety to develop and conduct an advertising campaign aimed at elevate the profession of law enforcement. This campaign will highlight law enforcement as an honorable career and the good work officers do every day to keep our communities safe. The idea was brought forward by law enforcement professionals who deal with more openings than applicants across the state. The second provision contains the financing of the Award-winning Pathways to Policing program to support non-traditional law enforcement applicants who already have at least an associate’s degree in another discipline.
To retain current law enforcement officers, the bill provides $3,000 in unique bonuses to all licensed police officers and an additional $7,000 incentive to officers approaching retirement who choose to continue serving.
Hold criminals accountable for their crimes
Minnesota is experiencing a dangerous increase in violent crime across our state because criminals are not being held accountable for their crimes. To address this, the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee adopted several “tough on crime provisions” in the comprehensive public safety bill that increase penalties for repeat offenders, car thieves and violent criminals using guns. There is also increased support for Violent Crime Enforcement Teams (VCETs), which have successfully targeted drugs and guns across the state.
Ensure accountability and transparency
In response to the increasing cases of violent criminals becoming repeat offenders and frequent decisions by prosecutors and judges to be lenient with criminals, this bill takes several steps to improve the transparency of decisions that lead to early releases and the absence of charges to the greatest extent possible.
This bill includes limited funding for non-profit organizations. There have been recent stories where newly created nonprofits are unable to prove what their funding is actually going to. Even more alarmingly, over the past two years there have been reports about violence interrupters tasked with working with law enforcement to defuse situations by nonprofits who have themselves violently injured others. Youth Intervention Programs, a proven system that requires local correspondence with accountability to the Department of Public Safety and the Legislature, receives an additional $3 million in the bill.
This bill supports Minnesota’s criminal justice system with a $50 million increase in funding for public defenders. Recent denunciations of a strike by public defenders indicate that the whole defense process is threatened. The majority of people charged with a crime have access to a public defender and are entitled to a fair and speedy trial with adequate representation for low-income people. Historically, salaries for public defenders have not kept pace with those of prosecutors, necessitating an almost 8% increase in funding for public defenders last year and additional investments this year for new hires to reduce the workload.