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The Minnesota Capitol dome is viewed on the evening of May 19. (File photo: Kevin Fatherly)

In the Hopper: Provisions lost to Omnibus Prime’s fall

It’s been a week since Gov. Mark Dayton signed a pension stabilization bill for state employees, eliminating $3.4 billion in unfunded liabilities for public-employee pensions. “That’s the last one,” he said after signing that bill.

Though Dayton left the door slightly ajar in late May for a lame-duck fall special session, he insisted last week that, after the pensions bill, he will sign no more — requests for a special session on elder abuse notwithstanding.

That being the case, it seems a good use of the season’s final In the Hopper to run down some key lawyerly policy-and-finance measures lost to Dayton’s veto of the nearly 1,000-page omnibus supplemental budget bill.

Authors of several of these provisions confirm that they plan to reintroduce them next year. While the most controversial provisions got stripped out before the final bill was sent to Dayton’s desk, all the items listed below were contained in the nearly 1,000-page supplemental budget bill that Dayton vetoed on May 23.

Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, a member of the House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee, said Monday that many of these measures, and similar cops-and-courts legislation from the omnibus not spotlighted here, likely will form the core of that committee’s bipartisan 2019 legislative agenda.

Corrections: The omnibus bill would have allocated $6.6 million toward unfunded medical care costs for Minnesota’s prison population in fiscal year 2019.

Corrections Commission Tom Roy, noting the inmate health care is a state constitutional requirement, has said that losing that money likely will force his agency to shift funds to inmate care from other DOC budget areas — likely including inmate mental health and chemical dependency treatment.

Election security: The bill directed that $1.5 million in federal Help America Vote Act program funds be released to the Secretary of State’s office for fiscal year 2019. The money would have paid to modernize, secure and update the state’s voter registration system and bolster its cybersecurity.

The Department of Homeland Security said last September that Russian hackers targeted 21 state election systems during the 2016 elections — including Minnesota’s. Most of that activity involved simple scanning of state systems, but in several states the Russians successfully penetrated networks. Minnesota’s networks were not among those, according to officials.

Secretary of State Steve Simon repeatedly testified before legislative committees in 2018 trying to get the funds released in a standalone bill. Instead, lawmakers folded the request into the vetoed bill derisively dubbed “Omnibus Prime.”

“The Legislature gambled and lost,” Simon said in a May 23 written statement. “Now, unfortunately, Minnesotans are left with a bad and completely avoidable outcome.”

Guardians ad litem: The supplemental budget bill cleared its conference committee containing a $2.94 million to hire dozens of guardians ad litem around the state. That funding did not survive the veto.

Guardian ad Litem Board Administrator Kristen Trebil-Halbersma testified in April that new hires are needed to comply with state and federal mandates in the face of a 71 percent statewide spike in Minnesota juvenile court case filings since 2011.

A 2018 Legislative Auditor’s report, meanwhile, criticized her program’s performance. The report says the GAL Board failed to assign guardians in 494 juvenile cases where they were required. Every judicial district in the state reports waiting lists for assigned guardians, the report states.

Ignition interlock: The omnibus would have required DWI offenders with licenses revoked after a second conviction in 10 years, or third in a lifetime, to use ignition interlocks to prove they’ve driven sober long enough to get their full driving privileges reinstated.

The final bill included $100,000 from a state driver services operating account to help pay for increased use of interlocks. It also required certified device manufacturers to pay for towing or repairs if an interlock failed, rendering a device user’s car inoperable. All that died with the veto.

Zerwas, a co-sponsor of the original measure, said Monday that he and his colleagues plan to try again next year.

Indigenous women: The veto also toppled an effort by Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein, DFL-New Brighton, to form a legislative Task Force on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. The bill provided $48,000 to jump-start that panel, which would have operated through 2021.

Its purpose was to examine what Kunesh-Podein and other proponents called an epidemic of domestic and sexual violence, sex trafficking and kidnapping crimes against Native American women. Its work would also have filled information gaps that shroud the true extent of the problem, Kunesh-Podein said.

She isn’t giving up. Kunesh-Podein said last week that she might ask Dayton to launch a governor’s task force as an alternative to what was lost with his veto. If that doesn’t work, she said, she will introduce new legislation next year.

Exonerations: Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, was the original author of an exoneration measure written in response to a 2017 Minnesota Supreme Court ruling that overturned part of state’s existing exoneration statute.

That case involved a woman who sought compensation after her manslaughter conviction was reversed. But wording in existing statutes wouldn’t allow her to seek compensation unless prosecutors first dismissed her case, which they hadn’t done. The court, in part, ruled the statue irrational because it required a prosecutor to dismiss a charge already dismissed by the appellate courts before a claimant could be eligible to file for compensation. That violated the Equal Protection Clause, they ruled.

The Lesch measure tweaked the law to better define what the Legislature means by “exonerated.” For instance, someone would be considered exonerated if, 60 days after a conviction’s reversal, a prosecutor filed no further felony charges related to the same alleged behavior. If the prosecutor were to file further felony charges but those were dismissed, or if the defendant was found not guilty at a new trial, that too would constitute an exoneration.

Lesch called it “a travesty” that his fixes failed to become law, but he will try again next year. “We’ll have to—these are people entitled to compensation based on our intent,” he said.

License suspensions: The bill would have ordered the Public Safety commissioner not to suspend driver’s licenses based solely on a person’s inability to pay a traffic citation, or based on a failure to appear in court on a petty misdemeanor.

Zerwas calls such practices “criminalizing poverty.” Minnesota would have been among the first states to curb them, he said, had his measure survived Dayton’s veto stamp. “I imagine that I will probably have another bill next session,” Zerwas said.

POST Board: The bill included a Dayton request to provide a $125,000 one-time general fund transfer for fiscal year 2019 to the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board. The money would have helped offset a projected deficiency in the board’s police officer training account, which receives a percentage of the surcharges levied on certain criminal and traffic violations. Recently there has been an expected recent dip in that revenue, officials said.

Like everything else denied here, that money is not forthcoming this year.

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