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At Issue: Sex offenders, courts and corrections

Published (4/24/2009)
By Mike Cook
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Rep. Debra Hilstrom walks legislators through the sections of the House omnibus public safety policy bill April 20. (Photo by Andrew VonBank)Working together created an omnibus public safety policy bill all House members can support.

“It strengthens the requirements on predatory offenders, it eases mandates on state agencies and it provides some needed assistance to local agencies in times of emergency,” said Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL-Brooklyn Center), who sponsors HF1301.

The House passed it unanimously (134-0) April 20, the same day the Senate passed its version, SF993, sponsored by Sen. Mee Moua (DFL-St. Paul). A conference committee is expected to work out the differences.

House Minority Leader Marty Seifert (R-Marshall) said the bill shows what happens when “the majority can be bipartisan in its outlook of a bill.” He said the bill was “OK starting out,” but was bettered with the adopted amendments, including those from his caucus. Six of the 10 adopted amendments came from House Republicans.

Predatory offenders

“This bill aims to proactively protect children and Minnesotans from sexual predators,” said Rep. Karla Bigham (DFL-Cottage Grove). Five of her sponsored bills are in this section.

It protects by expanding the computer solicitation of children crime to include all electronic communication systems, including texting and cell phone video, and prohibits registered predatory offenders who are on intensive supervised release from accessing or using instant messaging, chat rooms or social networking Web sites that permit minors to participate. Such offenders would also be subject to unannounced searches of their computer or other electronic device with Internet capability.

The registration period for a predatory offender would also restart if a person is arrested for a new offense or violates conditions of probation, parole or supervised release prior to the end of their registration period.

Rep. Tom Emmer (R-Delano) successfully amended the bill to include that certain predatory offenders shall receive lime green license plates. He also tacked on two parts of HF1305, which he sponsors.

One provision would make a DWI charge private data after 10 years of no same or similar charges. “It would still be available to law enforcement and courts, but if somebody did a background check for purposes of employment this wouldn’t necessarily come up,” Emmer said.

The other would issue a request for proposals for the replacement of the breath testing machines used in DWI traffic stops. In challenging a DWI charge, a defendant can contest that the machine was properly calibrated. However, Emmer said the manufacturer will not provide the source code necessary to ensure machine accuracy, which could jeopardize DWI convictions.

Rep. Al Juhnke (DFL-Willmar) successfully amended on HF85 to allow GPS systems to be mounted or located near the bottommost portion of a windshield. This bill passed the House 131-0 March 19, it awaits action by the Senate.

Crime victims, courts and public defenders

“Under current law, a prosecutor must provide victims of domestic assault and harassment with information on civil protection orders,” Hilstrom said. “This adds victims of criminal sexual conduct to that statute.”

The bill also increases from 12 to 24 hours the time an officer may have to arrest a person where there is probable cause of domestic abuse, and it expands the ability of judicial districts to create domestic fatality review teams.

Sponsored by Rep. Joe Mullery (DFL-Mpls), HF1224 sets forth a state policy to eliminate racial, gender and ethnic fairness barriers in the courts. He said the request came from the Department of Public Safety, and without it, the state could risk losing federal funds.

“Our job is not to be subservient to the federal government,” Emmer said in support of an amendment unsuccessfully offered by Rep. Mike Beard (R-Shakopee) to remove the provision.

Other court provisions include: the authority to appoint a referee to act in conciliation court; the creation of a license reinstatement diversion pilot program in five cities; a written transcript of a law enforcement vehicle recording is not a prerequisite for evidence admission in a criminal trial or DWI license revocation hearing; and criteria is established to determine public defender eligibility based on the person’s income and severity of the charge.

Corrections and sentencing guidelines

Among the areas included in this section are provisions that would allow conditional release of an offender if the offender consents to warrantless searches and the allowance of peace officers to use force in some instances to arrest juveniles who escape from custody.

However, Hilstrom was disappointed that she had to remove a bill designed to further ensure correctional officer safety because of a fiscal cost. Sponsored by Rep. Steve Smith (R-Mound), the provision from HF1039 would further clarify a 1997 state law that an inmate who assaults a correctional officer must serve their sentence consecutively, not concurrently. However, some judges have not interpreted it properly.

“What kind of deterrence is there if the time is allowed to be served while they’re serving what they’re in there for,” Smith said. “Whatever the cost is to keep someone in prison consecutively we surely dealt with in 1997. The cost is in their base. The fiscal note that you’re basing your motion to delete this language is not correct. … A House researcher on our committee said it would be impossible to determine.”

Public safety

A business that sells over-the-counter methamphetamine precursor drugs would be required, under the bill, to retain a sale log for five years and make it available for inspection by law enforcement at all reasonable times.

Rep. Morrie Lanning (R-Moorhead) successfully amended the bill to impose a misdemeanor penalty of a person possessing any amount of saliva divinorum, and a gross misdemeanor to anyone selling the hallucinogenic drug that is growing is use.

“Law enforcement folks are telling me they’ve seen very scary things from people high on this drug,” he said.

The bill also prohibits commercial retailers from selling a toy designed for children under age 12 that has been recalled for safety reasons; creates a gross misdemeanor for possessing a device or substance intended to be used to enhance an animal’s fighting ability; and it expands the fourth-degree assault crime to include when a person assaults a utility employee or contractor involved in their professional duty.

Other provisions:

• the state’s trespass law would be amended to include entering any public or private area lawfully cordoned off by a peace officer;

• a person failing to comply with a requirement of furnishing information to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension would be guilty of a misdemeanor and could be held civilly liable for damages suffered by someone resulting from the negligence;

• public employers could not consider an applicant’s criminal background history prior to an interview;

• the crime of unauthorized law enforcement practices would expand to include cases where a peace officer knowingly allows a non-peace officer to represent themselves as one or to perform acts reserved for peace officers; and

• the Statewide Radio Board would be designated as the state interoperability executive committee. Among its role, the board must develop a statewide plan for local and private public safety communication that integrates with the state’s emergency operation plan.

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