Omnibus judiciary and public safety finance bill

The bill has a $59 million target. The Governor’s proposal recommended spending $265 million. The House target is about $112 million. The bill is mostly base funding, except for covering the insurance costs related to inflation for all of the divisions under the committee purview.

The bill is especially harsh on the departments under the Judiciary and Public Safety Committee’s purview. Many of the department requests funded mandates placed on them by the state, or helped it meet national standards, but this bill does not address these issues. Much of the story of this bill is what goes unfunded by the agencies. The Legislature currently has a $1.65 billion surplus and this budget could lead to cuts to core government operations like protecting all citizens, ensuring Minnesotans have the opportunity for justice in the court system, and rehabilitating criminals through the corrections system.

Despite the low budget target, there were some good things covered in the bill. The bill made investments into reimbursements for bomb squad units, which will go to the local departments to ensure their squads are prepared for the next emergency. There was also an investment in increasing funding for the Violent Crime Enforcement Taskforces, which coordinate drug and gang investigations around the state. Lastly, the bill provides funding to ensure probation officers are funded and can ensure people are making smooth transitions back into society. (SF 803)

Governor’s concerns:

  • The Senate Republican Majority has proposed putting $0 into the Disaster Contingency Account this session to prepare Minnesota for natural disasters. If the Disaster Contingency Account is depleted, counties impacted by natural disasters would either be left paying the full cost of the damages caused by natural disasters, or be forced to wait weeks or even months for a special session of the Legislature.
  • The current bill will lead to major staff reductions at the Department of Corrections. Working with felons in Minnesota’s correction system is dangerous work, and as the bill stands, it could lead to over 200 people being laid off. This kind of reduction could make this dangerous environment worse.

Senate DFL Caucus concerns:

  • This bill appropriates $280,000 for homicide and narcotics investigators. DPS has seen a rise in requests for assistance with complex homicide and narcotics investigations. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s role is to lead these large scale complex investigations as a state resource as many local communities do not have the staff, resources, or expertise to conduct them on their own.
  • The bill also appropriates $720,000 to the Police Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board. This will be used to advance the professionalism of Minnesota’s peace officers by adopting and regulating education, selection, licensing and training standards.

“Innocent Owner” defense extended

When a person gets pulled over and charged with driving while intoxicated, law enforcement can take the driver’s vehicle.  The legislation that was signed into law would allow any owner of the vehicle to petition the court to get their car out of forfeiture.

Specifically, the bill modifies the existing “innocent owner” defense so that a person, often a spouse, who has joint-ownership interest in a vehicle can petition the court to get a vehicle out of forfeiture. A Minnesota Supreme Court interpretation says all vehicle owners must be innocent in order to get an automobile out of forfeiture.

This new law states that if a vehicle has more than one owner, any of the owners can petition the court. The owner must demonstrate to the court that they did not know the vehicle would be used in an illegal manner or that they took steps to prevent the alleged offender from using the vehicle contrary to law. (SF 151)

Senate DFL Media