DWI omnibus: The Senate Judiciary committee on Feb. 6 heard three bills that likely will become part of a larger Senate DWI omnibus package. More were expected to be added on Wednesday, after this story’s deadline.
Senate File 449 (lead author Sen Greg Clausen, DFL-Apple Valley) expands the definition of “peace officer” to include conservation officers. The bill would allow conservation cops to make DWI arrests.
Currently, as statute is written, conservation officers can only enforce DWI laws with respect to off-road recreation vehicles, watercraft and hunting while impaired. The Clausen bill, which has no House companion, would allow them to enforce DWI laws on roadways as well.
Col. Rodmen Smith, the DNR’s director of law enforcement, said that conservation officers already carry field sobriety test kits and are fully trained to administer them. “It does make sense to make this change,” he said.
The bill was laid over for inclusion in the larger DWI omnibus.
Senate File 753 (Sen. Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks) closes a loophole in implied consent laws that can allow someone to operate a recreational vehicle or boats even after failing a field sobriety test.
When someone operating an automobile fails or refuses to take a field sobriety test, the state imposes an administrative revocation of driving privileges, even if the driver is not convicted of the DWI charge. Conviction, of course, also means loss of driving privileges.
Much the same is true for snowmobile, motorboat or ATV operators, with one exception. If the operator fails a field sobriety test but is not later convicted of DWI, operating rights are not administratively taken away. “So this bill will line up the same scheme as we have with for automobiles, which I think makes sense,” said Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park.
The bill was laid aside for later inclusion in the omnibus.
Senate File 249 (Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope) clarifies in statute how a month is defined for the ignition interlock program. Rest said one of her constituents was recently booted from the program, which allows DWI offenders to submit to alcohol monitoring to keep driving. The constituent missed a day of monitoring because he misread the rules, Rest said.
Those rules say ignition interlock users must take at least 30 tests over the course of a month, but they define a month as 30 days. But some months have 31 days and one has 28. Rest said that creates confusion.
Her bill, as currently drafted, would require the tests to be administered “over the course of an entire calendar month.” Her intent, she said, is that users would take a test once a day. If the enrollee starts the program on Feb. 2, he or she would have to take a test every day through March 2 to have the month count correctly.
The same would be true for the month between March 2 and April 2, regardless of the number of days in that calendar month.
But that itself created confusion among committee members. Staff counsel Ken Backhus suggested that, as drafted, the bill might be interpreted to say that someone who starts the program on Feb. 27 would have to take 30 tests before March 1.
The bill was nonetheless laid aside for inclusion in the omnibus, with a promise to further tweak the language.
A fourth bill, Senate File 228 (Latz) would eliminate the requirement for taking a written exam before driving privileges are restored.
Minnesota DWI Task Force Chair David Bernstein spoke in favor of that bill. He said chemical dependency assessments — which are mandated in DWI law — are more effective ways to protect public safety than written exams. The exams haven’t been shown to boost public safety, he said.
That bill, however, was not immediately laid aside for inclusion in the DWI omnibus because it needs to make a stop at the Senate Transportation Committee.
On Feb. 14 (after this story’s deadline), two more Latz bills were scheduled to be heard and considered for the omnibus. Senate File 221 modifies DWI law with respect to license plate impoundments and re-issuance procedures. Senate File 737 would prohibit the application of the DWI forfeiture laws to vehicles operated by ignition interlock program participants.
Single-subject amendment: Rep. Cal Bahr, R-East Bethel, has dropped a House bill that he thinks would, once and for all, solve the Legislature’s habit of breaking the Minnesota Constitution’s single-subject rule.
House File 986 has nine GOP and eight DFL co-authors. The bill would put an initiative on the 2020 ballot asking voters to make legislators toe the line on the single-subject clause, which commands them to limit each bill to one topic. Last year’s nearly 1,000-page Omnibus Prime bill is an extreme example of the way lawmakers frequently ignore that directive.
The ballot initiative would read: “Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to strengthen the requirement that enacted laws contain only one subject?”
The underlying bill has two components. It would forbid legislators from growing a bill’s title beyond the one it had when initially heard in committee. That would essentially forbid the practice outlined in the DWI omnibus bill described in this column’s previous story.
For example, SF 753’s original title, “Recreational vehicle DWI laws further conformance to general DWI laws” could not be stirred into a longer title that encompasses an array of DWI laws. The bill would have to travel alone.
The bill’s second part would introduce continuing resolutions to the Minnesota legislative process. If the state Supreme Court should ever review a finance bill and find it unconstitutional, Bahr’s measure would keep the affected portion of government open and funded at 95 percent of the previous biennium’s budget.
Bahr thinks courts have been loath to enforce the single-subject rule because judges don’t want to put government out of business when the Legislature is adjourned sine die. His bill would take them off the hook by keeping government open, he said.
He said he settled on 95 percent of continued funding because it means legislators, by violating the constitution, would lose whatever new funding they approved in the offending finance bill. Meanwhile, state agencies would have to make a 5 percent emergency cut to existing budgets, he noted.
“It’s not enough to seriously hamper everything you do,” Bahr said. “It’s just going to make life really uncomfortable for any agency.”
The idea doesn’t seem to have support from leadership. House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said Monday the Legislature can deal with the single-subject problem through “good governing.” She added that crafting a continuing appropriations measure that favors neither political party would be as difficult as crafting a budget bill in the first place.
“So I think our time is better spent crafting a budget,” Hortman said.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, meanwhile, said he doesn’t want any constitutional amendments to move forward this year while there are biennial budgets to pass. Any constitutional amendment bill passed now wouldn’t show appear on a ballot until 2020 anyway, he said. “So it really doesn’t matter whether it’s this year or next year,” he said.
HF 986 was introduced on Feb. 11 and referred to the House Government Operations committee.
Moving on: The House Ways and Means committee on Feb. 11 approved two bills of interest to attorneys and placed them on the general register to await a House floor vote.
House File 15 (Rep. Zach Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids) is a bill would do away with a limited marital exception to rape. The loophole offers the accused a line of defense if he is married to or cohabitating with the alleged victim at the time of the assault.
House File 14 (Rep. Michael Nelson, DFL-Brooklyn Park) allows the state to spend $6.6 million in federal Help America Vote Act funds, which already are sitting in a state finance account. This bill essentially is a “permission slip” to allocate the money. Two amendments aimed at “election integrity” were not adopted before the bill was sent to the House floor to await a vote.
The Senate is taking a different tack. There Senate File 241 (Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake) was approved on Feb. 7 by Kiffmeyer’s State Government and Elections committee. Her bill allocates only $1.5 million of the available funds.
It also requires county auditors to launch investigations whenever a voter’s eligibility is challenged and it requires the secretary of state to develop a reporting mechanism using the Statewide Voter Registration System, which would generate information on inactive voters who are registered and possibly ineligible to vote.
That bill was approved, 6-4, in Kiffmeyer’s committee and referred to the Senate Finance committee, which was not scheduled to hear it during the week of Feb. 11.