Detractors say the preliminary omnibus public safety bill agreement isn’t sufficient, yet it was enough for the majority of conferees to back a compromise between offers put forth by the House and Senate.
Sponsored by Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Vernon Center) and Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove), the delete-all amendment to HF896/ SF803* received approval from eight of 10 conferees Tuesday on a party-line roll-call vote. However, no conference committee report has been signed.
“This is a starting point, but by no means is it an end,” Cornish said, citing future negotiations with Gov. Mark Dayton and his administration. “We’ll see where it goes from here.”
The conference committee report calls for $2.25 billion in spending over the 2018-19 biennium, an $85 million increase over projected base, nearly the midpoint between increases put forward by the House ($113.27 million) and Senate ($60.68 million). However, the amount is far below the almost $262.2 million increase proffered by Dayton.
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“This bill fell short as soon as you got your budget target,” said Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park). “What we’ve got now is a bill that doesn’t get the job done.”
No public testimony was taken at the meeting; however, conferees spent two days last week hearing from interested parties.
Dayton proposed a 3.5 percent annual inflationary salary increase for judicial and executive branch agencies; the House 1 percent, and the Senate zero. The agreement calls for no money for salary increase; however, employee health insurance cost increases are included.
Concerned about no funding for salary increases, Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL-Brooklyn Center) said Corrections Department officials estimate 200-250 layoffs without fully funding already negotiated contracts.
Four court filing fee reductions — which would total about $8.35 million in lost revenue — are included, including the civil court filing fee dropping from $310 to $280, and small claims court filing fee decreasing from $65 to $50. Another $242,000 would be lost by eliminating harassment restraining order filing fees for the respondent.
Other General Fund increases include:
Firefighter training would be enhanced through $10.03 million in additional spending from the fire safety account — funded through a surcharge on all homeowner and commercial fire insurance policies. Increases of $1 million for Minnesota Task Force 1, a specialized collapsed structure team, and $500,000 for the state’s air rescue team are included.
Additionally, $600,000 in each fiscal year would be appropriated from the railroad and pipeline safety account — funded through an assessment on railroad companies and pipeline companies transporting hazardous materials through the state — to improve safety at railroad grade crossings.
The House entered negotiations with a plethora of policy; the Senate none.
Two of the most controversial provisions relating to the Appleton prison and penalties for protestors who block freeways are included.
The initial House plan would have required the Corrections Department to use a 1,600-bed prison in Appleton when the department determines it has an insufficient number of prison beds to house the current or projected population. Under the agreement, the department may not expand a current, or construct a new, facility unless the department submits an outside, independent appraisal completed within the previous 90 days that estimates the market value of now-empty the Appleton facility.
“We want to keep Appleton in sight, but short of negotiations [to lease or buy],” Limmer said.
Hilstrom is fearful the change could hamstring the department. For example, she said the language would prohibit the addition of any beds at the Challenge Incarceration Program.
As for protestors, the agreement would increase the penalty from a misdemeanor to gross misdemeanor “for a person to interfere with or obstruct traffic that is 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.”
The amendment would clarify statute so that off-duty peace officers have the right to carry firearms in — and cannot be prohibited from entering — private establishments.
An amendment offered, then withdrawn, by Latz would, in part, require a peace officer to show identification verifying they’re a peace officer and, if the business has a seating plan, disclose where the person will be sitting.
Not included in the final product is prohibiting the use of stays of adjudication and imposition in criminal sexual conduct cases, and increased penalties for child pornography offenses and the establishment of mandatory minimums.
“At the very least, I thought we could adopt the language on child pornography changes. … We need to come down really hard on these people who violate our kids,” said Rep. Peggy Scott (R-Andover).
Also not included in the approved amendment is language related to segregation use at state prisons, expanding a driver diversion program statewide and establishing a felony offense for soliciting, collecting or providing material support or resources to further an act of terrorism.
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