Diverging omnibus bills heard in Judiciary committee

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Children involved in court cases will have to proceed without the representation of a Guardian ad Litem, forensic scientists will continue to be overworked, and the safety needs of county courthouses will go unmet if the supplemental judiciary finance omnibus bill introduced by Senate Republicans becomes law. The bill was heard in the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee this week and passed on a party line vote.

The committee heard the Governor’s recommendations for corrections, the courts, and public safety earlier in the week. The Governor recommended $1 million to supplement a widely popular grant program for counties to make safety and security improvements to their courthouses. Nearly three times the amount of grants as funds were available in the first funding cycle. There is no funding for the program in the bill.

An evaluation by the Office of the Legislative Auditor found the Minnesota Guardian ad Litem Board, which oversees the activities of attorneys who represent the best interests of children in certain cases, was not meeting its state or federal obligations to protect children. In order to ensure all children who are entitled to representation receive it, the Governor recommended 45 new Guardians ad Litem be hired at a cost of $4 million annually. The bill includes no funding for the program.

With opiate and other drug crimes on the rise, the Governor recommended hiring six new forensic scientists, two new investigative agents and one analyst at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, and providing new equipment to the drug testing laboratory. The Senate bill only allows for the hiring of two scientists and new laboratory equipment. The shortcoming in funding for these provisions is attributable to Republican opposition to a new opioid stewardship fee, which would amount to a penny per pill if enacted.

The Minnesota Constitution requires that offenders in its state prisons receive health care, and the Governor recommended ongoing funding to meet that mandate. The omnibus bill includes funding for offender health care, but cuts off funding starting in 2024. The Governor’s other corrections funding recommendations, including increased capacity to accommodate a growing prison population, and for providing opioid addiction treatment to offenders, are not included. (SF 2755)