What’s up with that, Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake, wanted to know. “I don’t know where I would give up my right to an attorney,” she said. “I’m just not quite understanding the logic of that.”
Her puzzlement was prompted by a section of a 16-page omnibus bill that deals with correctional officer discipline. Subdivision 9 of the bill dictates what happens when an officer who faces discipline is brought in to give a formal statement.
The bill’s original heading reads, “Presence of attorney and union representative.” But an amendment takes the words “attorney and” out of the subtitle, leaving only the union rep. In total, five changes were made to the section. Their sum effect is to leave lawyers out.
The committee’s chair, Rep. Jack Considine, DFL-Mankato, is the omnibus bill’s author. He said he had the same worries as O’Neill—and actually wanted to leave the language in the bill. But in the interest of satisfying union stakeholders and getting the bill passed, he said, he took attorneys out of the language.
Max Hall, the legislative representative for the AFSCME Council 5 union, spoke to the committee. His union represents 2,000 Minnesota corrections officers and he explained that the original language left his members “nervous” about their union’s status as workers’ “exclusive representative.”
“We were concerned that the exclusive representation process could be circumvented by an attorney,” Hall said. The bill’s original draft allowed for either a union rep or an attorney, he said. “That’s the language we were concerned about.”
Nothing in the amendment forces officers to surrender their constitutional right to an attorney, Considine said. “This just outlines some of the things they can do in the process,” he said.
That didn’t settle the matter for Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, particularly if an attorney isn’t brought in until after a statement gets made. “The cake’s kind of baked at that point,” he said. He asked committee members to reject the amendment. “This is bizarre,” he said.
After protracted debate, Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, suggested the wording might need more work. Considine agreed and withdrew the amendment with a promise to improve the language.
Eventually, the Corrections omnibus bill was passed and referred to Mariani’s Public Safety committee, where it figures to be rolled into an even larger public safety omnibus.