Greetings Friends & Neighbors,
I would like to bring you up to date on a few issues of current concern both as a state and in our district being discussed here at the Capitol in St. Paul.
The federal government is closer to fully implementing its new REAL ID program. This is occurring over a series of phases and the final one – pertaining to air travel – is generating numerous questions from citizens who are concerned it will impact their domestic flight plans.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security will make increased ID standards a requirement for boarding commercial planes sometime after Jan 1, 2016 and will provide states with 120 days' notice in advance of implementation for flying. New standards already are being used at secured federal facilities, restricted areas and nuclear sites.
The current versions of Minnesota's standard driver’s licenses and ID card do not meet the federal REAL ID requirements. However, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security indicates the Minnesota Enhanced Driver’s License (EDL) and Enhanced Identification Card (EIC) do, in fact, meet the REAL ID criteria. They are available now and cost an additional $15.
This issue is likely to be considered during the 2016 legislative session because full compliance with REAL ID would require state law to be changed. Concerns such as data retention led Minnesota and a number of others by prohibiting compliance with the federal law back in 2009. There also is unease over the language in federal REAL ID law, which may be vague enough to leave the door open for the federal government to expand the application of these standards to other avenues without checks and balances from the states.
The state has applied for an extension for compliance. Regardless of the Homeland Security's response to that request, or legislative action in Minnesota during the next session, the EDLs/EISs available in our state will suffice when the federal government makes REAL ID a requirement for boarding domestic flights.
President Obama has directed the State Department to embark upon a plan of resettling refugees from the nation of Syria to the United States. More than four million people have fled Syria. It is reported that up to 77 percent of males aged 18-25 have left. One might ask, who among this nation's population is left and prepared to fight for its existence?
More than 25 states have declared their refusal to accept Syrian refugees. Minnesota is not one of these states. It is important to note that once people have legally gained access to our country, such as through the president’s refugee relocation plan, states cannot refuse the free migration or travel of these refugees from one state to another any more than we as citizens may choose to travel beyond state borders.
The real question to be answered is how can these refugees be thoroughly vetted and screened when they are coming from a government in which verification of an individual’s credentials cannot be verified due to a lack of information and data bases, and where ISIS controls much of Syria and government data.
It is a legitimate national safety concern for the many states to express their apprehension and objection to the policy until real verification of the identity of individual refugees can be ascertained. The full authority of immigration policy constitutionally rests entirely with the Congress of the United States and not the President. The new Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, R-Wisconsin, will be taking up bills this week sponsored by Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, to address this issue.
Minnesota Speaker of the House Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, has issued a letter to Gov. Mark Dayton requesting that, as governor, he ask President Obama to temporarily suspend refugee relocation until adequate safeguards can be put in place to ensure the identity of any refugee entering America. Click here for the full letter from Speaker Daudt.
PRISON POPULATION TASK FORCE
Minnesota has the third-lowest rate of incarceration among the 50 states, but ranks fifth highest for the number of its citizens under direct correctional supervision. One out of every 25 Minnesotans is under (probation) supervision. Further, Minnesota at present has one of the fastest growth rates in prison populations, perhaps statistically due to the lower number of incarcerated prisoners.
The Prison Population Task Force Committee, upon which I serve, has been meeting regularly since the end of session. At present, the Department of Corrections facilities are filled and over capacity with now more than 10,000 inmates. Many are being held in our county jails. In the late 1980’s our prison population was little more than a few thousand. The Department of Corrections will be requesting $141 million of taxpayer funding this coming session in order to add 500 additional beds to the Rush City correctional facility at a cost of about $280,000 per bed.
The Prison Population Task Force is considering alternatives to this proposal. At present, the city of Appleton is home to a recently built and privately owned correctional facility which is not being used at this time. The committee will be touring this facility next week. In addition, the Sentencing Guidelines Commission is reviewing and considering changing some of the mandatory minimums for certain drug- and alcohol-related crimes.
Minnesota, as compared with many other states, has among the harshest prison sentences for possession of small amounts of restricted drugs. Approximately 50 percent of our prison population is incarcerated for non-violent drug- and alcohol-related crimes. The Sentencing Guidelines Commission estimates that revising our criminal penalties to be more aligned with the federal government and many other states could reduce the demand for prison beds by as much as 725 beds annually. Some of the annual bed savings are also attributed to recommendations from the commission reducing extended probation times. Studies comparing the recidivism rates for heavier penalties versus lesser penalties as compared in other states indicated little or no difference in re-offending by the convicted. Perhaps sentencing reform may permit postponement of permanent additional correctional facility construction at this time.
Click here for newspaper coverage – including video – from Thursday's meeting of this task force in St. Paul.
Wishing you a safe and enjoyable holiday next week.
Rep. Jerry Hertaus