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Governor vetoes public safety bill

Published (7/15/2011)
By Mike Cook
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Gov. Mark Dayton used his veto power on the omnibus public safety and judiciary finance bill.

“If enacted, this legislation would cut programs that hold felons accountable, would negatively affect crime victims, and would compromise our ability to protect the rights and freedoms of all Minnesotans,” Dayton wrote in his veto letter.

A number of policy provisions were also included in the bill that was sponsored by Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Good Thunder) and Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove).

HF853/ SF958*/CH37

Courts and public safety funding

Coming in at about $1.8 billion in General Fund spending, the bill would have mostly held the courts harmless, as Dayton had proposed in his budget.

The Supreme Court (0.8 percent), district courts (1.28 percent), Court of Appeals (0.98 percent) and Board of Public Defense (1.16 percent) would have received slight increases from their projected baseline for the 2012-2013 biennium, while the Tax Court (4.4 percent) and Board on Judicial Standards (3.2 percent) would have seen slightly greater increases. The Sentencing Guidelines Commission and Uniform Laws Commission were to be held at base levels.

Civil Legal Services would have been reduced by $4 million, or 16.9 percent, to shift those resources into the courts. However, after a Minnesota Supreme Court decision, it would have still received approximately $1.2 million in special revenue from attorney registration fees. The Guardian ad Litem Board would have been reduced $1.5 million, or 6.1 percent, with a directive to prioritize cases of abuse and neglect over family law cases.

“Civil Legal Services makes our courts more efficient by keeping over 3,000 non-meritorious cases out of the courts and helping thousands of Minnesotans to settle before trial,” Dayton wrote. “More importantly, they help ensure fair and equal access to Minnesota courts for all people regardless of race, ethnicity, income or language abilities. This cut would be harmful to victims of domestic violence, families experiencing foreclosure, and seniors and disabled Minnesotans attempting to secure access to healthcare and disability benefits.”

Another Dayton target was a 65 percent proposed reduction to the Department of Human Rights, something the governor said would “eviscerate our ability to investigate human rights violations.”

Nor did the governor like direction that the remaining money be used on enforcement measures while eliminating the department’s state-funded education and research responsibilities.

The bill would have transferred

$13.2 million from the fire safety account to the General Fund.

Since 2006, a 0.65 percent surcharge on homeowner and commercial fire insurance has been directed to the state fire safety account. Prior to that, Minnesota had a 0.5 percent state fire marshal tax, although it was not specifically identified on consumer policies.

The money 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.

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

$3.6 million in fiscal year 2011.

Other fiscal aspects of the bill included:

• transferring $5.2 million from a 911 emergency system account to the General Fund, something Dayton said is contrary to federal law;

• cutting $1.86 million more than Dayton proposed for community corrections, which the governor said would “jeopardize their effectiveness”; and

• a $1.54 million cut to the Department of Corrections Operational Support Division, with a requirement that line officer positions could not be cut.

Policy provisions

The bill aimed to address sexually exploited youth by creating a safe harbor policy to protect juveniles involved in prostitution and sex trafficking. It provided that a juvenile under age 16 couldn’t 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 would be referred to diversion or child protection.

The minimum and maximum penalty amounts imposed on adults convicted of violating prostitution laws, while acting other than as a prostitute, would have increased, and courts would have been prohibited from waiving the payment. A minimum assessment of $100 would have been imposed on indigent persons or those where the assessment would create an undue hardship, and paying in installations would have been permitted. Assessment amounts would have been distributed in a different way, including 40 percent to DPS for crime victim service organizations that provide services to sexually exploited youth.

Other policy provisions in the vetoed bill included:

• offenders with 60 days or less remaining in their sentences would have been required to serve that time in a county jail or workhouse; and

• an inmate health co-payment of at least $5 would have been imposed for each inmate visit to a health care provider.

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