SAINT PAUL, Minn.— Senator Ron Latz, DFL-Saint Louis Park, was the lead DFL Senator in negotiating legislation to provide the Department of Corrections in Minnesota help in making health care decisions, the use of fingerprint-based background checks, and finding places of confinement for the inmates in our correctional facilities across the state. These bills are part of the legislation package that was passed today at the legislature.
“It’s important to allow our correctional facilities the capability to provide a safe and healthy environment for inmates,” said Sen. Latz. “We need to extend the medical decision-making authority so we are not placing any burden on doctors and hospitals in which these individuals are being placed during this pandemic.”
The legislation includes giving the authority for the medical director of the Dept. of Corrections to make health care decisions for an individual under conditional medical release who lacks decision-making capacity and who has no health care directive or designated health care agent or that designated agent is unavailable to make a decision. A conditional medical release is only given when the individual poses no threat to public safety and their condition is better treated in the community. This authority is already given to the Dept. for individuals that are incarcerated. The bill is meant to be preventative for incarcerated individuals that contract COVID-19 and are placed in a community hospital.
Another section of the legislation includes authority for the Dept. of Corrections to place people who are supposed to be sent to state prison in a county jail or corrections facility if the time left on the individual’s sentence is less than 90 days. It allows the dept. to work with county jails it has contracts with to place individuals. The dept. has also said it would immediately enter into contracts with county jails that are willing for this purpose.
Due to a backlog in the state’s court systems along with a systemic issue with an inability to make bail, by the time individuals are sentenced and given credit for time served at a county facility they often only have short durations left of their sentence. 500 newly committed individuals were sent to state prisons in 2019 with less than 90 days left of their sentence. Of those 500, 170 had less than 14 days left of their sentence.
By placing person directly into county facilities, it reduces the risk of introducing COVID-19 into the prison system, which has less ability to stop its spread should it come in.
“This is meant to contain a possible COVID-19 outbreak in our prison system,” said Sen. Latz. “It is our intention not to create a public safety issue, but help contain this pandemic.”
Another provision in the legislative package is fingerprint-based background checks. The provision in the bill grants the BCA the ability to allow for exceptions for fingerprint-based state and federal background checks, instead using a name and date of birth background check for essential workers during a peacetime emergency. Fingerprint-based background checks would be required after the peace emergency has passed.
By temporarily waiving fingerprint background checks, our licensed emergency and health care job applicants we need to respond immediately to the COVID-19 pandemic will be cleared to start their jobs right away. It will be a crime to give false information about the background for the initial check. And they will lose their licensure if a later check reveals a disqualifying incident.
“Due to the risks involved during this COVID-19 pandemic, fingerprint background checks are becoming more challenging as locations around the state decline to take them due to close contact with the public,” said Sen. Latz. “This legislation will expedite provisional licensure until it becomes safe again to get fingerprints and complete the national check.”