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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL)

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RELEASE: Minnesota House expected to pass new Public Safety and Judiciary budget

Monday, April 29, 2019

SAINT PAUL, Minn. – The Minnesota House today is expected to pass a new two-year Public Safety and Judiciary budget. The bill includes funding for corrections, the courts, criminal apprehension, human rights protections and many other areas, along with investments in a safer, more just Minnesota.

“We’ve worked in a thoughtful, deliberate way to reimagine how we can better approach public safety in this state to improve outcomes for everybody with a more just criminal justice system,” said Rep. Carlos Mariani (DFL – Saint Paul), the Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Division Chair. “This session, through a community-centered lens, our work represents the first step toward a public safety approach centered in not just accountability and punishment, but prevention and pathways to redemption.”

“House DFLers are working to ensure fairness and deliver justice, and after bringing regular Minnesotans affected by our system to the table to hear their concerns and ideas, we’ve produced a budget accomplishes this,” said Rep. John Lesch (DFL – Saint Paul), the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Division Chair. “With investments in our courts, steps to decriminalize poverty, and other innovative strategies, our work will ultimately lead to more Minnesotans being able to seek and receive justice.”

Minnesota has the fifth-highest probation rate in the nation along with significant racial and regional disparities. The public safety budget addresses this through a five-year cap on terms (except for the most serious offenses), requests the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission to establish probation guidelines, and has grants for the Alternatives to Incarceration to divert nonviolent drug offenders to treatment.

The budget includes two significant measures to prevent gun violence in Minnesota. One would require criminal background checks to be performed prior to all gun sales and another would provide for Extreme Risk Protection Orders, allowing law enforcement to restrict access to firearms if a court determines a person may be a threat to themselves or others. A fact sheet about steps other states have taken to address gun violence is available here.

“Minnesotans have demanded that legislators address the epidemic of senseless gun violence in our communities,” said House Speaker Melissa Hortman. “House DFLers are committed to common-sense solutions like criminal background checks on all gun sales and extreme risk protection orders to keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. Minnesotans have demanded action and the Minnesota House DFL is standing with them.”

Following the tragic loss of two corrections officers within the last year in Minnesota prisons, the budget strengthens safety by investing in new correctional officer positions. It also re-establishes the Department of Corrections’ Ombudsman to take complaints, conduct investigations, and make recommendations regarding our prisons, jails, and other correctional facilities. House DFLers are also banning private prisons, which are motivated by profit and not safety or offender outcomes.

"Criminal justice is a core responsibility of government, but private prisons have a terrible track record with poor safety, health, security and recidivism," said House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler. "The corporations that run these private prisons are interested in only one thing: protecting their bottom lines. House DFLers are working to make sure Minnesotans’ rights are protected ahead of corporate profits.”

Funding for Minnesota’s courts is boosted, with new psychological services, expansion of treatment courts, and new judge positions. To reduce caseloads and increase capacity to handle complex cases, the budget funds new public defender positions.

The budget incorporates several gender-based violence prevention measures, including a working group charged with reforming the state criminal sexual conduct statute, elimination of the statute of limitations for criminal sexual conduct, repeal of the marital rape exemption, and the establishment of a task force on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Measures to help prevent and address sexual assault include notice requirements of predatory offender status for home care providers, broadening the definition of “position of authority,” and requiring police departments to have written policies for investigating sexual assault cases.

After listening to Minnesotans, House DFLers are advancing the conversation about cannabis. A Cannabis Task Force established in the budget would be charged with studying how the potential legal, personal use of cannabis would work in Minnesota regarding public safety, public health, tax policy, and regulatory oversight. The budget also includes new graduated penalties for certain marijuana offenses along with the decriminalization of cannabidiol.

A bipartisan effort to give judges discretion to reduce or waive fines and fees for traffic, parking and minor criminal violations based on financial hardship is included in the budget. Fines and surcharges for a basic traffic ticket can often exceed $100, which is a significant financial hardship for many families. Late fees and collection charges can then lead to driver’s license suspensions and other subsequent consequences like loss of employment and mounting debt.

Other highlights of the Public Safety and Judiciary budget include:

  • A variety of police officer professional development initiatives
  • Limits on the use of cash bail
  • Increased funding for the Department of Human Rights, including new offices across the state
  • New or expanded penalties for drunk or distracted driving in certain circumstances
  • Reforms of the use of solitary confinement
  • An update to Minnesota’s sexual harassment law to strengthen protections against such behavior in workplaces, previously passed by the House
  • Creation of the Legislative Commission on Intelligence and Technology
  • Strengthened cybersecurity for the court system

The Minnesota Senate passed their insufficient Public Safety and Judiciary budget last week, which fails to adequately fund public safety, fails to address common-sense gun violence prevention, and fails to fully fund constitutional mandates.

Lawmakers from each chamber will form a conference committee to craft consensus legislation.