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Judiciary, public safety conference committee touts ‘historic investments’ to keep Minnesotans safe

Rep. Kelly Moller and Sen. Ron Latz confer May 1 prior to the first conference committee on SF2909, the omnibus judiciary and public safety finance bill. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)
Rep. Kelly Moller and Sen. Ron Latz confer May 1 prior to the first conference committee on SF2909, the omnibus judiciary and public safety finance bill. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)

The omnibus judiciary and public safety conference committee began its work Monday with words of encouragement from the Senate sponsor.

“I for one am very excited to be on the cusp of what I think are historic investments and policy changes in Minnesota, and I am confident that we are going to end this conference committee with a product that we can all be proud of in that regard,” said Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park).

Latz, chair of the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, sponsors HF2890/SF2909* with Rep. Kelly Moller (DFL-Shoreview), chair of the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

Conferees are tasked with resolving the differences between the omnibus bill passed by the House April 26 and the Senate version passed by that body April 14.

After provisions in the House omnibus bill were reviewed the committee went into recess, and reconvened later in the day to discuss Senate-only provisions.

Conference Committee on SF2909 5/1/23 - Part 1

Moller said Tuesday’s scheduled 10 a.m. meeting would feature nonpartisan staff doing a side-by-side comparison of the two bills.

House-only provisions

There are two high-profile gun-control provisions in the House package that are travelling as standalone bills in the Senate: universal background checks for handgun sales; and a “red-flag” provision that would allow family members and others to petition a court to have firearms removed from a person found to pose a significant danger to themselves or others.

Latz remains undecided whether to fold those into the potential conference committee agreement.

Another high-profile House-only provision would significantly curtail when a judge can issue a no-knock search warrant to peace officers. Judges can now approve such warrants under certain conditions, such as when the police can demonstrate they are unable to detain a suspect or collect evidence through a knock-and-announce warrant.

Conference Committee on SF2909 5/1/23 - Part 2

Rep. Brion Curran (DFL-Vadnais Heights), who sponsors the House provision, said the use of no-knock warrants – where police are not required to announce their presence before forcibly entering a property – are extremely dangerous for both the police and people on the other side of the door.

“The further we limit the scope of this tool, it is safer for the public and it is safer for law enforcement,” Curran said.

Other notable House-only provisions, some of which have appropriation requests, include those that would:

  • expand the right for a free public defender to cases where a person appeals a district court’s decision on a child protection case;
  • simplify how victims of identity theft or mistaken identity can expunge court records to clear their names;
  • prohibit peace officers from joining or supporting hate or extremist groups; and
  • appropriate $1 million in the 2024-25 biennium to create and maintain a Juvenile Restorative Justice Office.

Senate-only provisions

Among the Senate-only provisions is a specification that admissions, confessions, or statements made by a person under arrest are considered involuntarily made and inadmissible in court if the interrogator knowingly communicates false facts about evidence, misrepresents the accuracy of facts, or communicates unauthorized statements regarding leniency.

Other Senate-only provisions include:

  • classifying certain information concerning judges and judicial staff as confidential and non-public data;
  • making it a misdemeanor to knowingly publish personal information about a judge or judiciary staff member with the intent to threaten, intimidate, or harass the person;
  • creation of a carjacking crime and establishment of penalties;
  • prohibiting law enforcement agencies from retaliating against, or penalizing a peace officer who intercedes against or reports another officer or employee use of excessive force; and
  • creating a penalty for a person who places a prank emergency call reporting a fictitious emergency. Under current law, the base charge for “swatting” is a gross misdemeanor, but increases to a 10-year felony if the response results in someone’s death or great bodily harm. A three-year felony would be created if the prank call causes someone to suffer substantial bodily harm.

Many areas of agreement

With DFL majorities in both the House and Senate, there are many identical or nearly identical provisions in the bills.

Both propose appropriating $3.6 billion in the 2024-25 biennium to fund the courts, civil legal services, Guardian ad Litem Board, Tax Court, Uniform Laws Commission, Board on Judicial Standards, Board of Public Defense, Human Rights Department, Department of Public Safety, and Department of Corrections.

However, the Senate version would send more money to the Department of Corrections: $1.7 billion versus $1.3 billion; the difference mostly accounted for by the Senate proposing more funds to hire extra prison personnel.

[MORE: View the conference committee joint spreadsheet]

Both versions include significant funding increases for the public defense board, appropriating $95.6 million in the biennium to hire more than 200 additional public defenders.

Civil Legal Services lawyers, who represent low-income clients in civil cases, would also see a compensation increase thanks to proposed appropriations, although the House is currently more generous, proposing $37.1 million versus the Senate’s $16.6 million.

Notable policy provisions in both versions, some of which have appropriation requests, include:

  • establishing the Office of Missing and Murdered Black Women and Girls;
  • appropriating $5 million in fiscal year 2024 to establish Ramsey County juvenile treatment homes;
  • creating a new crime of organized retail theft;
  • expanding the crime of an assault motivated by bias to include bias against a person due to the person’s gender, gender identity, or gender expression;
  • changing the first-degree possession offense to equate the possession of fentanyl with the possession of heroin;
  • requiring the state, instead of counties, to pay for medical examination costs for criminal sexual conduct victims;
  • granting early conditional release to inmates who make sufficient progress toward rehabilitation; and
  • establishing a Clemency Review Commission and modifying Board of Pardons’ operations.

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