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More court funding, no protestor measure in judiciary and public safety agreement

By Mike Cook
Rep. Tony Cornish, chair of the House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee, discusses the omnibus judiciary and public safety conference committee report May 22. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Additional dollars for the judiciary, tweaked language regarding the Appleton prison, and rulemaking related to driver’s licenses for undocumented residents are three of the high-profile items in the final version of the omnibus judiciary and public safety bill.

Missing is language related to freeway protestor penalties.

Approved 98-36 by the House and 46-21 by the Senate Monday, the conference committee report on HF470 calls for $2.33 billion in spending, a $167.89 million base increase. An offer vetoed last week by Gov. Mark Dayton called for $2.25 billion in spending, an $85 million increase over projected base, nearly the midpoint between initial increases put forth by the House and Senate. Dayton proffered an almost $262.2 million base increase.

Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Vernon Center) and Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove) sponsor the bill that waits gubernatorial action.

“It’s basically a good bill — with a little bit of controversy — and most of the controversy out,” Cornish said.

Among concerns addressed by Dayton in his veto letter was the lack of funding that Judicial Branch officials say is needed “to maintain a well-functioning court system.”

The latest agreement calls for a $54.5 million increase between the Supreme Court, Tax Court, district courts and Court of Appeals, including a 2.5 percent annual salary increase for judges and court staff. Funding for 10 new public defenders is also part of the report.

Dayton also was critical of lack of funding for some Bureau of Criminal Apprehension requests that officials say are needed to meet increased requests for assistance. The report would provide funding for two more firearms examiners, two criminal history system maintenance staff and a drug forensic scientist.

Three court filing fee reductions — which would total almost $6.3 million in lost revenue — remain, including the civil court filing fee dropping from $310 to $285. Another $242,000 would be lost by eliminating harassment restraining order filing fees for the respondent.

The agreement calls for $83.9 million more for the Corrections Department, mostly compensation and health care cost increases, and $300,000 to increase outpatient sex offender treatment for offenders on community supervision.

There is no money to expand mental health services or reform of restrictive housing, known as segregation.

Other General Fund spending includes:

  • $12 million to strengthen law enforcement training and implement best practices;
  • $3.38 million for treatment court stability;
  • $1.7 million for two new District Court units, which includes a judge, court reporter and law clerk; and,
  • $500,000 to combat recruitment by terrorist organizations; and $400,000 in Fiscal Year 2019 to “bring persons with nontraditional backgrounds into law enforcement.”

“This is approximately, in some areas, about two-thirds of the governor’s request in the bill,” said Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL-Brooklyn Center).“I understand this bill was negotiated with the governor. “This bill is less bad than it was when it left.”


No protestor penalty changes

The agreement does not include language that would increase, from a misdemeanor to gross misdemeanor, the penalty “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.”

Rep. Nick Zerwas (R-Elk River), who sponsored the change as HF390, said he was told by House Speaker Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) the bill would get a vote early in the 2018 session.

Also not in the final bill is elimination of the so-called “seat belt gag rule” that prohibits introduction of evidence regarding the use of or failure to use a seat belt in any civil action for damages arising from a motor vehicle accident. Also absent is removal of the 10 percent interest rate from the period between commencement of suit and entry of judgment for judgments or awards of $50,000 or more.


Appleton Prison

Potential use of the empty Appleton prison issue is back in a different form.

Under the proposal, the Corrections Department is to select an independent entity to conduct a thorough assessment of the 1,600-bed facility to “determine the current physical state of the facility and the improvements to it, if any, that would be necessary for the department to open and operate it to house Minnesota offenders in a manner consistent with other state correctional facilities. The assessment must estimate the costs involved in upgrading, leasing or purchasing, and operating the facility.”

A report would be due the Legislature by Jan. 15, 2018.

The vetoed bill would have prohibited the department from expanding a current, or constructing a new, facility unless it submitted an ­­­outside, independent appraisal completed within the previous 90 days that estimated the market value of the facility.­­­­­


Driver’s license issuance authority

The Public Safety Department would be prohibited from using its rulemaking authority to issue driver’s licenses for undocumented residents.

“This is in place clearly — clearly — because there’s a mean spirit behind this,” said Rep. Raymond Dehn (DFL-Mpls). Rep. Karen Clark (DFL-Mpls) said the provision “smacks of injustice and, I’m afraid, it also smacks of racism.”

Cornish disagreed.

“Rather than unelected bureaucrats making such an important decision, we wanted that to rest with the Legislature,” he said. “(It’s) not to get a finger on somebody, or label them,or be mean-spirited.”

Rep. Eric Lucero (R-Dayton) said the provision is about process.

“The reason this is a pro-discussion provision is to ensure that the executive branch and the state agency doesn’t abuse its rulemaking authority and create this law unilaterally,” he said. “This provision will require a discussion to take place back here at the Legislature weighing the pros and the cons on this issue before any law were to be created.”

Opponents noted people are already driving without a license or insurance.

“How does it enhance public safety when we’re prohibiting a group of people from taking the written driving test, from taking the road test and having insurance?” said Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-Mpls). “We have tens of thousands of aspiring citizens that are living, working, driving, going to school, going to work (and) paying taxes that have not accomplished these three things we ask of people when we drive. That does not enhance public safety.”


Cops can carry into private establishment

The agreement would also clarify statute so that off-duty peace officers have the right to carry firearms in — and cannot be prohibited from entering — private establishments. However, an establishment owner “may require the display of official credentials issued by the agency that employs the peace officer prior to granting the officer entry.”

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