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At Issue: Offering a way out

Published (5/9/2008)
By Craig Green
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A plan that will serve as a framework for future reentry work is on the way to the governor.

Sponsored by Rep. Michael Paymar (DFL-St. Paul) and Sen. Linda Higgins (DFL-Mpls), HF2996 began the session as the reentry omnibus bill. It initially proposed deferring prosecution for certain first-time drug offenders, a tax credit for employers hiring ex-felons, a study of reentry facilities and the creation of a reentry court working group.

What survived, the omnibus public safety policy bill, was passed by the House 132-0 May 7 and 61-2 by the Senate a short time later.

In its latest form, the bill:

• requires the Department of Corrections to develop a marketing plan with the Department of Employment and Economic Development to attract private businesses to employ inmate services through MINNCOR Industires;

• requires inmates who do not have a primary address to notify local authorities where they will be going at least three days before they leave a correctional facility;

• adjust the timing of petitions for civil commitment hearings dealing with those who may be deemed a sexually dangerous person or have a sexually psychopathic personality;

• requires registration as a predatory offender for anyone convicted of a comparable offense in another state;

• requires a court to ask if a convicted defendant is a member or a veteran of the armed forces, whether he or she has been diagnosed with mental illness, and if so, consider appropriate treatment;

• calls for a study group to consider the impact on presumption joint physical custody of children after divorce; and

• establishes a working group to discuss the state’s controlled substance laws. A report would be due to the Legislature by Jan. 15, 2009.

“If the working group comes back with some sound recommendations to the Legislature, I think we will be in a position to reform some of our drug laws and, hopefully, find ways to incarcerate fewer drug offenders, and get them into treatment,” Paymar said.

Not included

Certain provisions were pulled during conference committee discussions due to a veto concern. One involved the use of nonconviction records by private employers.

Proposed by Sen. Mee Moua (DFL-St. Paul), SF3035 would prohibit an employer from using records of an arrest or pending criminal proceeding against a potential employee.

Dave Dederichs, manager of fiscal and labor/management policy at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, said that although most employers look at past arrests and focus on convictions, there are employers who may want to look at the full history of potential future hires.

Also removed was a provision from HF3503, sponsored by Rep. Karla Bigham (DFL-Cottage Grove), which would prohibit registered sexual offenders from accessing social networking Web sites that permit minors to have a personal Web page, and a provision from Rep. Tom Hackbarth (R-Cedar) that would increase the lawful amount of explosives allowed in certain fireworks.

No good conduct

A lynchpin of the original bill was the establishment of a certificate of good conduct. Following certain restrictions, someone with a conviction could apply for a certificate stating they have been rehabilitated. The idea being that the certificate, which “creates a presumption of rehabilitation,” allows them an easier path to housing and employment. It was not included in the final draft because of objections raised by the governor’s office.

When first introduced, a fiscal note that said the program could cost approximately $1.5 million, but the Senate came up with a plan to pay for the program through fees assessed to applicants. “We had the money to do it,” Paymar said, “we ran into a road block with the governor’s office.”

Harley Nelson, deputy corrections commissioner, told a May 2 conference committee that the concept is good, but the proposal specifics still need to be worked out. Nelson raised concerns about who would verify information provided by applicants, and questioned the definition of “law abiding.”

Higgins was disturbed that concerns were being brought forth so late, and said that the certificate could help many of the 7,000 inmates annually coming out of incarceration and facing difficult barriers. “We know that getting them on path to a good job and a decent place to live makes it more likely that they will be law abiding,” she said.

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