Judiciary and Public Safety
The omnibus judiciary bill brought needed funding to Minnesota’s public safety systems. The bill had a $167.7 million target, which was a little disappointing compared to the Governor’s proposal of $265 million. The bill will ensure public safety officers have the resources to respond to criminal activity, increases the training our law enforcement officers receive, and helps ensure that Minnesotans will have access to our court systems. One of the main benefits of the bill will be added funding for the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. This funding will add more agents to help investigate Minnesota’s opioid epidemic and decrease the time needed to investigate firearms used in crimes.
While this bill adds needed funding to many core functions of government, it still has controversial policy provisions and failed to fund some needed improvements in our prison system. The first controversial provision relates to codifying language to limiting undocumented immigrants’ ability to get driver’s licenses. Many undocumented immigrants live in Minnesota communities and already drive on roads without a license which means they do not have insurance or appropriate training.
Another aspect of the bill is what it fails to fund; many prevention programs like youth intervention programs and mental health services in the Minnesota corrections system are noticeably absent. Youth intervention programs help young people make better choices and avoid the corrections system. Mental health services help current inmates receive the appropriate care needed to help them reenter society. The bill also fails to fund Minnesota’s Disaster Contingency account. The Governor recommended $20 million for the account, but there is no funding provided unless the state has a surplus again at the end of FY2017. (HF 470)
Farm Revocable Trust Reporting Exemption
The Legislature passed a bill exempting revocable trusts from annual reporting requirements that are included in the Corporate Farm Act. These trusts are used for titling convenience for the property owners. However, because these entities are included in the Corporate Farm Act, there are annual filing requirements and failure to file can result in gross misdemeanor penalties. Many farmers are unaware of the filing requirements and are at risk of facing the gross misdemeanor penalties. (HF 22)
This bill is meant to ensure that children age 10 or older know that they have the right to counsel. This could help children who are not being helped by their parents or other persons legally responsible. This legislation ensures that these vulnerable children will know they are entitled to counsel and to have legal representation. (HF 1702).
Architectural Barrier Lawsuits
The Minnesota Legislature passed a bill aimed at stopping frivolous lawsuits filed against business owners for Americans with Disabilities Act violations. An attorney was going around Minnesota filing questionable lawsuits regarding disability access to businesses. The trend in the lawsuits was to make litigation extremely expensive so that the businesses have a financial incentive to settle with him. The goal was not to improve disability access, but instead the collection of settlement payments. The hope is that this bipartisan approach will take away the incentive for filing these kinds of lawsuits. (HF 1542)
Common Interest Communities Modifications
This bill is meant to address a significant drop in the construction of condominiums, townhomes, and cooperatives in Minnesota. Many developers were building these Common Interest Communities (CIC) up until the market crash of 2008. However, the CIC market seems to never have recovered in many communities. Many cities and realtors believe their communities, and the market more generally, are looking for these kinds of developments, but there is no supply in the real estate market. Many proponents of the bills pointed to a 10 year look back period where homeowner associations can file lawsuits against developers. This bill makes it so there must be an agreement between a majority of owners before pursuing a lawsuit against a developer. This change, among others, is meant to help make the economics of building these types of housing better for developers, without infringing on the rights of current property owners. (HF 1538)
Tampering with Public Safety Vehicles
This bill is in response to incidents nationally and in Minnesota where offenders have been loosening lug nuts, cutting break lines, putting sugar in the gas tanks, or taking other actions that would inhibit law enforcement’s ability to perform their duties and protect the public. The bill will increase the penalties for persons who damage these vehicles. The bill incorporates damage to a public safety motor vehicle into current statutes covering criminal property damage and allows for the amount of damage to factor into the penalty.
The bill creates two new penalties in the first degree where damage is greater in value than $1,000 for repair or replacement. The penalty would be up to a five-year felony and/or up to a $10,000 fine, if the damage was to a public safety motor vehicle, the defendant knew it was a public safety vehicle, and it caused substantial interruption or impairment of public safety service or reasonable risk to bodily harm. In the third degree, the penalty would be up to $3,000 and/or not more than one year in jail if the damage is to a public safety motor vehicle and the defendant knew the vehicle was a public safety motor vehicle.
Peace Officers Able to Carry in Private Establishments
This bill prohibits owners of private establishments from prohibiting an off-duty officer from carrying a firearm, allowing actively licensed peace officers to carry a firearm at all times.
This bill is meant to address an oversight from when the permit to carry legislation was passed. There was an intention to allow off-duty police officers to be able to carry a firearm in order to protect themselves and the public. There was recently a court case where the judge’s decision indicated the current permit to carry law needed to be clarified and this would address those concerns.
GPS and Ignition Interlock
This bill prohibits the commissioner from establishing ignition interlock equipment standards that would allow for or enable the use of location tracking capabilities. This bill is in response to a rule change requiring driving under the influence (DUI) offenders who choose to partake in the ignition interlock program to have new interlock devices installed by Jan. 1, 2017. Many of these new systems are capable of tracking a user’s location. This information led to a lawsuit filed by Smart Start Minnesota (a DPS-certified Ignition Interlock vendor). Smart Start argued that this program violated the constitution and the privacy rights of participants in the program. Early this year, a Hennepin County Court issued a temporary halt on installation of these devices with GPS tracking capabilities until the issue between the DPS and the Legislature was resolved. The judge also noted, “the government’s installation of a GPS tracking device on a vehicle without a search warrant is an illegal search under the Fourth Amendment.”
This bill also contained reforms to DWI laws needed because of decisions made in the Minnesota and U.S. Supreme Courts requiring warrants for blood and urine test for persons suspected of DWI. There were also various other changes either approved of or recommended by Minnesota’s DWI Taskforce. (HF 179)
Judiciary and Public Safety Bills that Did Not Become Law
VETOED: Judiciary and Public Safety Budget
Governor Dayton vetoed the original judiciary budget bill for its inadequate funding for one of the core functions of Minnesota government and inclusion of numerous highly controversial policies that should have been debated as stand-alone bills.
The proposed bill would have left the Department of Public Safety unable to provide its current level of service to Minnesotans. The rising costs associated with complex homicide and narcotics investigations would have left local communities unable to respond to the growing opioid epidemic. The bill also failed to reimburse the Disaster Assistance Contingency Account which allows the Governor to respond to public disasters swiftly to help ensure victims do not have to wait for a special session. The bill also drastically underfunded the Department of Corrections, so much so that as many as 250 employees would have been laid off whose main purpose is to help reduce recidivism. Lastly, the budget’s funding shortfall for our court system would leave many Minnesotans with delayed access to our justice system, minors without mandated legal representation, and low-income Minnesotans without access to legal aid. (SF 803)
The Senate Judiciary Committee passed a bill to the Floor that increases the penalties against protesters who break certain laws. There were two bills in judiciary that were amended together to make it a gross misdemeanor to intentionally interfere with traffic on a public highway on airport property, or entering or exiting or on a freeway. The bill also increased the penalty from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor for restricting passenger access to a transit vehicle, without force or violence or the threat of it.
The bill is aimed at organizers of protests that occurred in Minneapolis and St. Paul between 2015 and 2016, especially those organized by Black Lives Matter. These protests shut down I-94, delayed traffic at a terminal at the MSP airport, inconvenienced people at the Mall of America, and shut down a light rail line. Proposals aimed at toughening laws against demonstrators have been introduced in many other states, including North Dakota, Iowa, Michigan, Indiana, Colorado, Virginia, and Washington.
There seems to be support to stop protesting from occurring on freeways. Many people support the right of people to protest, but worry about the effects that blocking highways could have on public safety. This could impede ambulance traffic, law enforcement responding to other crimes, or put the demonstrators themselves in danger. However, there were no testifiers in support of the bills at the hearing.
Opponents of the bill point to the chilling effect this kind of bill could have on Minnesotans’ constitutionally-protected right to free speech. Others argue that these penalties are far too strong for the crimes committed. The penalties associated with infringing on someone’s ability to get on or off a transit vehicle are as severe as domestic assault or malicious punishment of a child. They also point out that there are numerous other laws that are available to law enforcement for when demonstrators break the law. (SF 918, SF 676)