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Minnesota Legislature

Careless driving bill crashes

Published (5/1/2009)
By Mike Cook
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A bill whose accompanying fiscal notes from a handful of agencies showed zero direct cost was rejected April 29 by the House Finance Committee on an overwhelming voice vote.

Sponsored by Rep. Karla Bigham (DFL-Cottage Grove), HF45 would increase the penalty for careless driving resulting in the death of another person to a gross misdemeanor.

Bigham said current law provides that when a person is found to be carelessly driving and causes the death of another person they can be charged with either a misdemeanor — the equivalent of running a stop sign — or a felony. “This bill aims to create a middle ground of a gross misdemeanor. … It has to be a chargeable crime. I don’t want somebody thinking grandma bumps into a car, somebody dies, and she’s going to prison.”

Rep. Tom Rukavina (DFL-Virginia) said he couldn’t understand how there was no fiscal note, when some comments associated with the fiscal notes expressed financial unease, such as the Department of Corrections estimate that offenders would occupy one to three jail beds per year. “It’s pretty expensive to keep somebody in jail, isn’t it?”

The Sentencing Guidelines Commission indicated no impact on state prison resources, said Rep. Michael Paymar (DFL-St. Paul), however, it estimates an increase in 28 probation caseloads, which could affect local resources.

Rukavina further expressed concern the bill would limit a judge’s ability to look at a circumstance and properly punish an offender. “I’m sure nobody gets in a vehicle and attempts to fall asleep so they can hurt somebody.”

Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington), a bill co-sponsor, missed the discussion and vote due to a family obligation, but expressed bewilderment later in the meeting.

“You can’t argue it has a financial connotation, it is 100 percent policy,” he said. “I’m trying to figure out how the purview of this committee could possibly justify that.”

Rep. Lyndon Carlson, Sr. (DFL-Crystal), the committee chairman, explained to Garofalo how the bill, as introduced, had a fiscal cost that was amended out by a division, before being returned to the full committee. “There was discussion about the penalty and what that would have cost potentially even though the fiscal note said zero,” Carlson said.

“Well, it sounds like we’re rewriting fiscal notes, now, too. This committee is really getting out of control on a bipartisan basis. The fiscal notes aren’t good enough,” Garofalo said, before Carlson quickly pounded the gavel twice to end the discussion.

A companion bill, SF639, sponsored by Sen. Jim Carlson (DFL-Eagan), awaits action by the Senate Judiciary Committee.

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