ST PAUL, Minn. — Republican state lawmakers on Friday announced the first major anti-crime bills of the 2022 session and made it clear they will make public safety the top issue at the State Capitol and the campaign trail this year.
Sen. Paul Gazelka, who is running for governor, came forward with a bill that would slap convicted carjackers with minimum prison sentences that couldn't be waived by the courts.
"We have record number of carjackings. It’s off the charts," Sen. Gazelka told reporters at a Capitol news conference.
"A mother with young children terrorized by carjackers. Shoppers held up and assaulted in grocery store parking lots. And on and on and on."
Gazelka also said he's introducing a bill that would prohibit judges from straying from the minimum five-year sentence for repeat offenders who commit a crime with a gun. He said the bills are in response to both the crime wave and what Republicans view as the misuse of prosecutorial discretion and judges that won't apply to minimum sentences prescribed in law.
A third bill would create a signing bonus program to help police departments replenish their dwindling numbers, especially in Minneapolis, where roughly 200 officers went on leave for PTSD in the wake of the civil unrest that followed the 2020 murder of George Floyd by MPD Officer Derek Chauvin.
"This is something we need to take action on now. We should all be looking for people to become police officers and encourage them that this is the most noble profession they can think of and we need them."
Gazelka devoted much of the media event to blaming incumbent Gov. Tim Walz for both of the issues his bills are aimed at solving, the crime wave and MPD officers quitting in droves.
He repeated a familiar theme that the governor and other Democrats should've done more to show support for officers during the upheaval after Floyd's murder, which caused officers to feel abandoned. Much of Gazelka's rhetoric will serve as a preview of campaign ads and literature.
"In Tim Walz's Minnesota there are now too many young, hardened criminals terrorizing and victimizing residents in the core cities and suburbs."
The carjacking wave is part of a national trend that some experts blame on the fact that key fob technology makes it impossible to steal parked cars without their owners present.
However, in Minneapolis there's also a strong narrative that young carjackers have been emboldened by knowledge of a shrinking police force and COVID-related changes to bail for juveniles.
Gazelka said he may introduce a fourth bill that would require more 16 and 17-year-old suspects be tried as adults, but that is still being researched.
"The most disturbing thing about the crime wave and something I still am exploring is the number of minors who are perpetuating brutal acts of violence -- 13 years, committing carjackings, 15-year-old gunmen."
Ramsey County Attorney John Choi and Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman are also under fire from GOP lawmakers and police organizations for stepping back from charging all crimes that result from traffic stops over minor violations, such as broken taillights or expired tabs.
Those charging decisions are still made on a case-by-case basis, but Choi announced he won't be charging felonies that result from nuisance stops. He cited statistics that those discretionary traffic stops fall disproportionately on people of color. Police groups say those stops are still a valuable tool for solving more serious crimes.
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