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Keeping the courts adequately funded

Published (8/11/2011)
By Mike Cook
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The omnibus public safety budget law contains reductions for some areas of courts and corrections, but not nearly as steep as those proposed by the Legislature during its regular session.

Sponsored by Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Good Thunder) and Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove), the law, effective retroactively to July 1, 2011, contains $1.8 billion in General Fund spending on corrections, courts and law enforcement programs, nearly $29 million more than a conference committee report that was vetoed by Gov. Mark Dayton in May.

“Public safety has been secure in the commissioner’s mind,” Limmer said. “By keeping an adequate funding for our courts, I believe we can sustain the protection of civil liberties with this budget.”

Rep. Steve Smith (R-Mound) said the law increases overall court funding by 1.2 percent: the Tax Court will see a 4.4 percent increase, district courts 1.3 percent, Court of Appeals 1 percent and the Supreme Court 0.8 percent. All increases are over base funding.

Also receiving increases are the Board on Judicial Standards (3.2 percent) and the Public Defense Board (1.9 percent) with the latter’s funding increase directed, in part, “to alleviate caseloads by hiring additional public defenders.” The Sentencing Guidelines Commission and Uniform Laws Commission are to be held at base levels.

Civil Legal Services received a 6.8 percent base reduction ($1.6 million) and the Guardian ad Litem Board 2.4 percent ($600,000).

The Office of Justice Programs will be cut $2.66 million (the vetoed bill had a $12 million cut) and language in the vetoed bill that would have limited reductions to domestic abuse shelters to 5 percent and would have prohibited cutting grants to youth intervention programs is not in the law.

The biggest gainer in the updated budget agreement is the Department of Human Rights, which ended up with just a 5 percent funding reduction. The initial bill vetoed by Dayton called for a 65 percent decrease. Language prohibiting the department from using state funds for education and outreach programs has been eliminated, as has language increasing contract compliance thresholds.

A $10 million proposed reduction to the Department of Corrections has been reduced to $3.33 million, and the proposed reduction to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has been sliced from $1 million to $500,000.

Other fiscal aspects of the bill include reducing an $8.5 million transfer from the state’s Fire Safety Account to the General Fund to $3.7 million.

“We’re leaving a considerable amount, which is a great relief to many of our fire chiefs,” Limmer said. “We’re still going to continue what’s the best use of this funding and how can we protect it in the future.”

The money, garnered through a 0.65 percent surcharge on homeowner and commercial fire insurance policies, is used for the Minnesota Board of Firefighter Training and Education, staffing and operations of the State Fire Marshal Division and fire-related regional response teams and other fire service programs that have the potential for statewide impact.

Some of the account balance has been used to help fund the state’s deficit in recent years. In fiscal year 2010, $6.9 million was transferred to the General Fund and $3.6 million in fiscal year 2011.

Gone in this law is a provision to transfer $5.2 million from a 911 emergency system account to the General Fund.

Under the vetoed bill, offenders with 60 days or less remaining in their sentences would have been required to serve that time in a county jail or workhouse. That provision is not in the final agreement. Nor is a requirement for the state to participate in the Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Communities Initiative.

An inmate health co-payment of at least $5 can be imposed for each inmate visit to a health care provider, under the law, and counties will be allowed to reimburse costs of medical services to local prisoners at the Medical Assistance rate rather than the negotiated provider rate. This should save counties considerable money.

The law also aims to address sexually exploited youth by creating a safe harbor policy to protect juveniles involved in prostitution and sex trafficking.

Effective Aug. 1, 2014, it provides that a juvenile under age 16 cannot be prosecuted for a prostitution offense under the state’s delinquency code. A 16- or 17-year-old alleged to have committed a first-time prostitution offense will be referred to diversion or child protection with an opportunity for the case to be dismissed. The law increases penalty assessments on patrons of prostitution and dedicates 40 percent of those fines to victim’s services for sexually exploited youth.

2011 Special Session: HF1/ SF1*/CH4

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