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Public safety and courts (new law)

Published (5/29/2009)
By Mike Cook
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A strategic approach to preserving public safety still means a $61 million cut in public safety and courts funding.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty is OK with that.

A new law, mostly effective July 1, 2009, contains reforms for the court system and Corrections and Public Safety departments.

Rep. Michael Paymar (DFL-St. Paul) and Sen. Linda Higgins (DFL-Mpls) sponsor the $2.02 billion law, including $1.81 billion allocated from the General Fund, to cover courts, human rights, victim services and public safety and other programming.

Unlike most state agencies and departments that face a biennial funding decrease, the Corrections Department will receive a $3.6 million base bump, although the governor sought more.

To help with department efficiencies, the law requires at least a 1 percent per diem decrease, or 89 cents per day per prisoner. Additional per diem savings are to be put toward treatment beds. A list is included of potential ways the department can cut costs, and a task force will be established to look at how the department can improve efficiencies. The law requires a 20 percent reduction in the department’s car fleet — more than 750 now — by Jan. 1, 2010.

The short-term offender program that allows offenders with less than six months remaining on their sentence to serve that time in a local jail is eliminated, effective with those sentenced on or after July 1, 2009, meaning no state inmates should be in local facilities after Dec. 31, 2009. The problem was that state funding was not close to county costs, thereby putting the onus on local taxpayers.

All Challenge Incarceration Program beds must be filled, and the department is required to put an eligible offender’s name on a waiting list and to offer the person a chance to participate when space becomes available if there was insufficient space when the person originally became eligible. The list of those ineligible to participate is expanded.

After lawmakers heard about potentially reducing services and hours or not charging some criminal activity, the law provides the courts an overall biennial funding decrease of less than 1 percent, but some of that is to be offset by $41 million in fee increases.

Among the increases are:

• initial filing fee in a district court civil action ($240 to $310);

• initial filing fee in a marriage dissolution action ($270 to $340);

• jury demand fee ($75 to $100);

• motion fees ($55 to $100);

• subpoena issuance ($12 to $16);

• depositing a will ($20 to $27);

• filing fee in conciliation court ($50 to $65); and

• filing fee for an appeal ($500 to $550).

Other court provisions include: an increase from $4 to $12 in the surcharge attached to parking violations; an increase of the attorney registration fee to $75 to help fund public defenders; the public defender co-pay is increased from $28 to $75 (it can be waived by the court); referees can serve as judges of conciliation court in all judicial districts; a transfer of money from local drug abuse prevention programs to juvenile drug court programs; and an annual 10 percent interest rate must be put on a judgment or an award over $50,000.

The law also:

• ensures that five victim’s services programs administered by the Office of Justice Programs must not be reduced by more than 3 percent from last year’s biennium funding;

• judges can waive the mandatory minimum sentence for a fifth-degree controlled substance crime in certain circumstances;

• counties can develop a revocation center pilot project to house offenders facing probation revocation, rather than sending them to prison;

• a 90-day incarceration cap will be placed on a first-time supervised release violator following a revocation of supervised release; and

• by Jan. 1, 2010, the Public Safety Department is to reduce its non-investigative car fleet by at least 5 percent. This excludes the state patrol.


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