Heading to the governor is a proposal that calls for the first major changes to the state’s drug sentencing guidelines in nearly 30 years.
Sponsored by Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Vernon Center) and Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park), HF3983/SF3481* is an agreement between various groups involved in the criminal justice system, including county attorneys, public defenders and law enforcement, on changes to the state’s controlled substance laws. Nobody said it is a perfect solution.
It was passed 129-0 by the House Friday; the Senate passed the measure 45-19 May 16.
Supporters said the changes will ensure that drug offenders who should be in prison spend time behind bars, while others who may be more amenable to things like treatment or probation are not sentenced to serve time. It would make no changes to heroin laws.
Among the changes proposed are:
Specific examples in the bill include:
The bill would not be retroactive, and would apply to crimes committed on or after Aug. 1, 2016.
In a January 2016 report, the state’s Sentencing Guidelines Commission recommended creation of enhanced crimes for possession of drugs in quantities significantly greater than existing first-degree thresholds. It also recommended that the Legislature reduce possession of a trace amount of a controlled substance from a felony to a gross misdemeanor.
Without legislative action, the changes will take effect Aug. 1, 2016. A Cornish-sponsored bill HF2888) to reject the changes was approved in March by the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee on a split-voice vote.
Minnesota’s prison population now exceeds building capacity by about 500 inmates, and the overcrowding is expected to worsen in future years. In Fiscal Year 2015, there were 501 people serving prison time in Minnesota for fifth-degree controlled substance crimes.
Latz said that when fully implemented, the change would save more than 700 beds now used by non-violent offenders each year and approximately $12 million annually.