Last session, the Judiciary Committee focused its efforts on increasing penalties and changing laws pertaining to criminal sexual conduct. While the committee took notice of Governor Dayton’s supplemental budget priorities, none were fully funded, and some were ignored entirely. Some controversial policy provisions ended up included in the final conference report of the Judiciary and Public Safety article of the supplemental budget bill, including bills that increased penalties for Minnesotans protesting on airport roads and freeways.
Despite strong public support and pressure, the Judiciary Committee did not hear any gun safety legislation. Efforts to amend the supplemental finance bill with provisions for a permit to purchase and extreme protection orders were voted down in committee, and ruled not germane on the Senate floor.
What has happened in this issue area since last session?
Prison safety has been a major issue since the close of session, with two corrections officers being killed in the line of duty this summer.
The Star Tribune released a series of articles detailing flaws in sexual assault investigations and prosecutions, sparking outrage and interest among legislators of both parties.
What is expected to happen this session?
Expect early hearings on prison safety, along with a substantial budget item from Governor-elect Walz. Legislators from both parties will likely support efforts to improve sexual assault investigations, and reports are expected from both the Attorney General’s office and the POST Board with recommendations on changes to training for officers who conduct such investigations. Proponents will continue to push for gun safety laws. Internet privacy will remain an important data practices issue.
Recreational marijuana: decriminalization and legalization
Ten states and the District of Columbia have legalized recreational marijuana use in small amounts for adults. Only Vermont has legalized recreational marijuana use through legislation. All other legalizing states have done so through a ballot initiative. Since Minnesota is not an initiative and referendum state, putting the issue to voters would require a constitutional amendment (which would also mean a repeal would require another constitutional amendment).
While it varies, states that have legalized recreational use typically leave much of the regulations surrounding cultivation, licensing and dispensing up to a regulatory board that functions similarly to an Alcohol Control Board. All states that have legalized recreational use allow residents to grow their own plants, with varying limits on the number of plants allowed per resident or household, and specifying conditions under which plants can be grown. The amounts residents are allowed to carry on their person at one time, or possess in a household, also vary by state. States have generally allowed municipalities to have regulatory authority in placement of dispensaries and growing facilities.
Twenty-two states and the District of Columbia have decriminalized possession of small amounts of marijuana. Minnesota is included among these states, but characterizes possession as a low-level misdemeanor (meaning no possibility of jail time). Other states have characterized possession of small amounts of marijuana as a civil infraction.
While it is likely Senate Republicans will block measures to improve gun safety, DFLers in the Legislature will continue to push for reforms, including a permit to purchase/universal background check and extreme risk protection orders (also known as “red flag warnings”).
Last year, an amendment to prohibit a person who is not a firearms dealer from selling or transferring a firearm to another person who is not a firearms dealer without a valid permit to carry or transferee permit, and valid ID was not adopted in Committee, and was ruled not germane on the Senate floor. It requires completion of a bill of sale with information on the identity of the individuals involved in the transfer, the transferee’s permit, a signed statement that the transferee is legally eligible to possess a firearm, and information on the firearm itself. Transfers between relatives are exempt from these requirements.
Extreme risk protection orders are a tool law enforcement can use when a concerned individual reports he or she has reason to believe a firearm-possessing individuals may imminently harm themselves or others. Law enforcement may remove a firearm from an individual’s possession if they are found to pose a danger to themselves or others. The amendment addresses recourse for those who believe they have been denied due process for confiscation of their firearm, creates a crime for falsely claiming someone is a danger to themselves or others, and creates a process for returning the confiscated firearm once the risk of harm is mitigated.
Prison safety and corrections budget
After two corrections officers were tragically killed in the line of duty this summer, prison safety will be a legislative focus after years of unfulfilled or partially funded budget requests from Corrections. Expect a push from AFSCME, the union representing corrections officers.
In addition to funding for staff increases, other corrections programs remain unfunded, including dollars to accommodate a growing prison population, the offender health care contract, mental health services, and drug treatment programs in prison.
Sexual assault investigations and the Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board
The Star Tribune released a multi-part series detailing failures of police to adequately investigate, and to a lesser degree, prosecutors to bring charges in sexual assault cases. The first article in the series included a quote from the executive director of the Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board who said a change in training for sexual assault investigators would require action by the Legislature and that he had “not seen the appetite” for such reform. Legislators and Governor Dayton sharply rebuked the executive director, arguing that there is desire to work on the issue—and that the POST Board does not need legislative authority to make such a change.
Since the first few articles in the series were published, the POST Board and the Attorney General’s office have been examining how to improve investigations and prosecution, with reports forthcoming, including legislative recommendations.
Proposals may be offered to reinstate Obama-era rules that require Internet service providers to disclose to their users what personal information they possess, and to bar them from selling or disseminating the information without permission. Despite overwhelming popularity, expect continued opposition from Senate Republicans.
See the Energy and Telecommunications section for more information on this topic.