ST. PAUL, Minn. — For Minnesota conservatives, rallying at the Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul has been met with violence and fear.
That violence and fear surrounded a Capitol Security discussion, led by Lt. Gov. Tina Smith, which looked at security measures during everyday events at the Capitol.
In the past, Minnesota legislators have addressed the issue of counter protesters disturbing permitted events through violence.
In May, Rep. Matt Dean (R-Dellwood) addressed violence and disruption of the May 6 pro-Trump rally by members of Antifa.
“I understand that not only were families blocked from entering, but some were verbally and physically assaulted,” Dean wrote in a Facebook post. “The anti-GOP protestors [sic] were allowed to shut down the Capitol and attack those Minnesotans who (under permit) were simply trying to assemble in the Capitol.”
“Our Capitol is a symbol of our freedom,” he continued. “It has been vandalized and marred by the punks and thugs who celebrate intimidation and violence as some acceptable form of political expression because their candidate lost the last presidential election.”
Captain Eric Roeske of the State Patrol gave the committee insight as to how law enforcement officials handle security at the Capitol and the surrounding buildings.
“Why have a permit in the first place?” Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove) asked after Roeske told the advisory committee the main goal of the State Patrol was to ensure the first amendment and keep people safe. Roeske explained the permitting process did not run through the State Patrol and while groups did not identify with specific leadership, they try to ensure everyone’s first amendment rights by creating boundaries.
“We are not going to tell folks who come here and behave that they should leave just because they don’t have a permit,” Sen. Scott Dibble told the committee. “I can’t imagine how we would enforce that. It’s impractical.”
The committee also addressed funding for the State Patrol.
“I keep hearing we don’t have adequate staffing during the Minnesota legislative session,” Limmer told Roeske. “Do you have enough people during the session?”
While the State Patrol acknowledged that they had increased staffing in recent years, House Sergeant of Arms Bob Meyerson told the committee when a program that hired retired state troopers, known as legislative security officers was decommissioned, it left a hole in security for committee meetings.
During the final days of session, protesters marched into the Capitol and shut down a committee meeting.
The meeting also led to the announcement by Roeske that a mass notification system would be rolled out for the Capitol and its surrounding buildings in the near future. “It’s complicated due to different agencies and complexes,” Roeske told Limmer, who responded by stating as the Chair of the Public Safety and Judiciary committee, there was “keen interest” in looking to fund that program.
We can’t staff to the highest need all the time, how do we bring people in on temporary or flexible way that way we can keep everyone safe and protect everyone’s rights,” Dibble said. “That might take a little bit more analysis or work.”
Suggesting the committee take a look at staffing needs during their next meeting, Dibble asked Smith and others on the committee to consider taking a look at how changes in law enforcement staffing at the Capitol has changed and impacted the level of security in recent years.