WILLMAR -- Kandiyohi County Sheriff Dan Hartog is intrigued by the possibility that state-funded training could be available on illegal immigration.
"Any education is good when it comes to dealing with different things," said Hartog, in response to a bill introduced this week by Sen. Joe Gimse, R-Willmar, that would allocate $10 million a year to send Minnesota officers to South Carolina to be trained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
One day after introducing the bill, Gimse said he's had positive reaction from law enforcement officials who have told him it's a "step in the right direction."
Gimse said he's also getting support from DFL senators.
The bill won't advance this year, but Gimse said he expects discussion to continue at the legislative and community level with hopes of bipartisan support in 2011.
In a news release earlier this week, Gimse stated that Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, a DFL'er from Minneapolis, expressed "enthusiastic support" for the bill.
That was an overstatement by Gimse, who has since apologized to Torres Ray.
In an interview Wednesday, Torres Ray said she had spoken briefly with Gimse and she was encouraged that alternatives to the House bill, which replicates Arizona's recent legislation, were being presented.
"I really believe that Sen. Gimse has good intentions here," said Torres Ray, who said she's promised to work with him to explore options for a "united, bipartisan effort."
But Torres Ray, a Latina who said immigration legislation is a "very significant thing for my community" and a "life and death issue for many people," does not endorse this bill and has questions about what it would accomplish.
Under Gimse's proposal, a $5 surcharge would be added to all moving traffic violations to generate $10 million a year to provide block grants to cities and counties - $10,000 to train one officer.
He estimates that 250 officers could be trained each year during the intense four-week session offered at an ICE facility in South Carolina.
The investment would be well worth it, said Gimse, because not enforcing immigration laws is also costing the state and local communities. Gimse said welfare costs, for example, "will all be reduced if we properly enforce federal law."
Hartog said the training could be very helpful to the jail's booking officers, who already work closely with ICE in identifying when individuals who have been arrested for a crime may also be here illegally.
Hartog wasn't sure how deputies on patrol would benefit. Also, budget cuts have left his department with two fewer deputies than this time last year and sending an officer to a month of training would tax resources.
Torres Ray questioned a $10 million annual expenditure during the current budget crisis. The state has cut local government aid to cities and counties, and the Republican caucus has resisted raising revenue for education or health care. Torres Ray said a proposal to increase fees to fund immigration legislation would be an "awkward" priority and a "tough sale today," especially when immigration enforcement needs to come from the federal government.
Gimse said he was inspired to introduce the bill after the issue of training police on immigration laws was discussed recently by the Willmar City Council.
"It's an important issue for my district and others," Gimse said. "It's a discussion that we need to have."