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Bar Buzz: Bill would raise cities’ fine percentage

Did you know that, among all Minnesota municipalities, only Ramsey County cities get cut in on less than two-thirds of the fines and penalties collected by court administrators?

Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville, wants to change that. And she just might.

Her House File 113, was laid over Wednesday for possible inclusion in a forthcoming House judiciary omnibus finance bill. In effect, that means it survives to fight another day.

Roseville is among the small set of municipalities—all in Ramsey County—that keep just 50 percent of court fines collected in their jurisdictions. The other half goes to the state’s general fund. (Yes, that means counties get nothing, but we’ll get to that.)

Hennepin County’s cities keep 80 percent of fine proceeds, while almost all other Minnesota municipalities keep two-thirds. Becker-Finn’s bill would set Ramsey County’s suburbs in line with the state norm—two-thirds of fines collected. The state then would keep just one-third, rather than half.

“It’s not asking for special treatment,” Becker-Finn told House Judiciary committee members Wednesday. “It’s saying that we are getting unfairly dinged. Everybody else is getting treated more special than we are.”

Ben Johnson, the committee’s House Research staffer, said there was a time when the state didn’t get cut in at all. Before 2006, he said, counties split the fines with municipalities. But that was during deep Pawlenty-era budget cuts when tax increases were off limits. Dipping into local fines was one way that lawmakers found to partly make up for the losses.

So how did Ramsey County end up treated differently? No one seems sure.

“It honestly doesn’t make a lot of sense to me,” Becker-Finn said, adding that neither the Legislative Reference Library nor House Research were able to provide definitive answers. “I imagine that some of the discussions were behind closed doors.”

If her measure passes, the state’s general fund would take a hit. In the first year after the bill’s proposed July 1, 2019, enactment, the state would lose—and Ramsey County cities would gain— a cool $129,000. After that, the amount would be about $173,000 a year.

At this point, HF 113 has no Senate companion bill.

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