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Public safety committee OKs omnibus bill that includes protester penalty provision

Members of the House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee debate a series of amendments to HF2856, the omnibus public safety and security bill, April 18. Photo by Paul Battaglia
Members of the House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee debate a series of amendments to HF2856, the omnibus public safety and security bill, April 18. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Like many compilation bills, this year’s omnibus public safety and security finance bill contains provisions that members on both sides of the aisle like and dislike.

On an overwhelming voice vote, the House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee approved the delete-all amendment to HF2856, as amended, Wednesday. At least one “no” vote was heard from the DFL side of the committee table.

Up next is a stop before the House Ways and Means Committee. Rep. Brian Johnson (R-Cambridge), the committee chair, does not know when it will be heard there.

“Overall it’s a good bill,” Johnson said after the meeting. He added there’s always more you’d like to include.

This year, that can in part be blamed on the modest budget target the committee received. It checks in at just under $7.2 million for the current biennium that ends June 30, 2019.

Of the spending, nearly $3.67 million would be directed to the Guardian ad Litem program in Fiscal Year 2019 for 45.5 full-time equivalent positions to help comply with state and federal mandates to represent the best interests of children in juvenile and family court proceedings.

Other spending includes $1.5 million to provide supervision to offenders placed on intensive probation and $850,000 for the Board of Public Defense for more staffing related to additional work expected to occur due to proposed policy changes in the bill.

View the spreadsheet.

Lamenting the low budget target, Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL-Brooklyn Center) hopes more money can be found before an expected conference committee finishes its work.

“I hope we can take care of the more than 100 needed guards in the Department of Corrections, that we take care of the health care costs that they constitutionally need to have health care provided to inmates and we take care of the issues the (Bureau of Criminal Apprehension) has addressed with scientists and their caseload,” she said.

Approved by the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee Tuesday, its omnibus bill would appropriate $6.6 million for the offender health care contract deficiency and $300,000 for two new drug scientists at the BCA.

Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul) said there are “many, many good aspects” to the bill; however, he has a number of concerns.

Primarily, the omission of two gun-related bills he sponsors.

Last month the committee heard — and later voted to not bring up for discussionHF1669 that would require a buyer background check for almost every transfer of a firearm in the state, and HF1605 that would permit law enforcement and family members to petition a court to prohibit someone from possessing a firearm for between six months and two years if they pose a “significant danger” to themselves or others.

“When our state experiences, and our country experiences, the level of deaths from firearms from all sources … Minnesotans know that we need to take action,” Pinto said. “Our failure to do so, in my opinion, is shameful.”

People line up to gather documents before the House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee meeting April 18. Photo by Paul Battaglia

The lone gun-related provision in the omnibus bill would prohibit a local unit of government from disarming peace officers who are in good standing and not currently under investigation or subject to disciplinary action.

Five of 13 offered amendments were adopted. Of the others, six were withdrawn and two voted down.

Among those tacked on was one that would require the Corrections Department to annually report to the Legislature on the use of administrative and disciplinary segregation, including the number of inmates placed in segregation each year and reason for placement, lengths an inmate stays in segregation and the number of inmates transferred from segregation to a mental health unit.

Others making the final product would:

  • have an ignition interlock manufacturer, installer or servicer pay any towing or repair costs incurred by the user when a device failure results in the vehicle being unable to start;
  • expand the acts that constitute a felony to include throwing or otherwise transferring any bodily fluids or feces at or onto a person who supervises and works directly with patients at a secure treatment facility while the person is engaged in the performance of a duty;
  • add a representative from the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association to the proposed Task Force on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women; and
  • clarify for investigators what can be sought through administrative subpoenas, primarily to get subscriber information. The change is sought by the Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force.


Protester penalty provision remains

An amendment unsuccessfully offered by Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn (DFL-Roseville) would have removed a provision to increase the penalty from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor for someone who intentionally obstructs traffic “entering, exiting, or on a freeway or entering, exiting, or on a public roadway within the boundaries of airport property with the intent to interfere with, obstruct, or otherwise disrupt traffic.” It would also add restricting passenger access to the statute regarding unlawful interference with transit.

“My goal always in my role here is to do the just thing. I don’t believe that increasing penalties on those who feel compelled to publicly protest is the way to do that,” Becker-Finn said during the 30-minute discussion that largely echoed previous debates on the issue. “If we continue to see protests, that should tell us that we have work to do to address the underlying injustices that lead people to protest in the first place. If people feel heard and respected that will have a more meaningful impact on some of the things that we see in our communities than increasing penalties.”

Rep. Nick Zerwas (R-Elk River), who sponsors the provision as HF390, reiterated the bill is not about silencing voices, rather to deter illegal behavior.

“My goal is to get people not to block freeways, not to block access to airports, and not to shut down the billion-dollar train system,” he said. “… The First Amendment allows for people to protest. … It does not, however, afford you the right to park your Buick across three lanes of I-94. If you believe it does, you have been misinformed.”




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