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Rep. Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Committee chair, convenes the April 2 hearing where his 223-page omnibus finance bill was first heard. Committee Administrator Jamael Lundy is pictured to Mariani's right. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

Public Safety omnibus unveiled

Poring over the 84 bills packed into its 223 pages, members of the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Committee on April 2 got their first glimpse of a $1.5 billion omnibus finance bill.

With 32 amendments to be heard over the course of a marathon April 4 markup session (scheduled after this edition’s deadline), it’s nearly certain that the bill, House File 2792, will change greatly before it’s put to a vote. But as described Tuesday, the bill included all of DFL Gov. Tim Walz’s priorities for the division, which deals with cops, crimes and corrections in Minnesota.

Missing from the omnibus’s initial version was any trace of two DFL priority gun-safety bills authored by Rep. Dave Pinto, DFL-St. Paul and Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights. However, House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Majority Leader Ryan Winkler announced jointly before Thursday’s markup hearing that DFLers would add the two bills through amendments.

The omnibus departs from the governor’s budget priorities on only one major shared line item: HF 2792 removes all funding from a Peace Officer Standards and Training Board special revenue account and places it in the general fund—though none of the board’s funding is actually taken away. No explanation for that move was given at Tuesday’s hearing.

The committee also adds an additional $6 million in POST Board training funds in fiscal year 2022, the year after the current budget cycle ends. The governor does not make that request. The House also adds a variety of other new appropriations, mostly from bills heard in committee since January, which Walz does not ask for.

On balance, the DFL-controlled committee is a little more generous toward public safety than the governor. Walz offers $1.517 billion to the division in his revamped budget request. The House committee offers $1.525 billion.

Projecting forward, Walz’s budget anticipates $1.533 billion in “tails”—legislative slang for ongoing spending—into the 2022-23 biennium. The Public Safety committee projects $1.540 billion in spending tails.

Committee chair Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul, said the omnibus is a collaborative and bipartisan work. He said about 10 percent of the legislation folded into the omnibus was offered by Republicans, and various other bills had GOP coauthors.

Mariani said that when his committee started work in January, he hoped it would focus on what he called “community-centered public safety.” He said that meant focusing on four primary goals:

  • Hearing from crime victims and survivors.
  • Reforming the criminal justice system.
  • Prioritizing preventative over punitive measures.
  • Engaging in collaborative problem solving.

“Hopefully, we did well with these,” Mariani said.

Below we highlight a few of the 13 areas of committee focus that Mariani identified at the Tuesday hearing. They are ranked according to the size of new appropriations they contain.

Security investments ($7.023 million)

This budget area gets $7.023 million in new spending. Far and away the biggest share goes toward hiring new corrections officers in the state’s prisons to improve safety.

Most of that spending pays for House File 1315 (lead author: Rep. Jack Considine, DFL-Mankato), which contemplates hiring up to 110 new corrections officers over the 2020-21 biennium. The omnibus bill puts $6 million toward that cause. Considine’s original bill contemplated hiring up to 210 officers by 2021.

The only other area of major spending in this section is a $600,000, two-year appropriation to the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management to extend a security grant program. That comes from House File 1850 (Rep. Heather Edelson, DFL-Edina).

Probation reform ($2.832 million)

Perhaps the marquee bill in this area is House File 689 (Rep. Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis). Though it spends only $400,000, it has potentially far-reaching impact. It would establish new maximum probation terms of five years for most offenders, ending supervised release terms that extend up to three decades in Minnesota. The bill would allow courts to extend probations up to five years if an offender fails to meet terms of probation or pay restitution. Violent criminals could have their terms extended an additional three years. People currently on probation would be released on Aug. 1, 2024, unless they are subject to an extension.

Other bills of note in this section:

House File 474 (Rep. Zack Stephenson, DFL-Coon Rapids) puts $800,000 into a pilot project that provides enhanced community supervised release or pretrial supervision to individuals struggling with mental illness and at heightened risk of reoffending.

House File 997 (Long) directs the Sentencing Guidelines Commission to establish presumptive and fixed terms for offenders deserving of probation. The bill provides $952,000 to help the commission to establish data integration with various relevant state agencies.

Juvenile justice ($2.3 million)

Key bills in this area include:

House File 1717 (Rep. Ray Dehn, DFL-Minneapolis). This bill makes juveniles sentenced to life in prison for heinous crimes eligible for parole after 25 years.

House File 897 (Dehn) appropriates $1 million for Office of Justice Programs-administered grants for alternatives to juvenile detention.

House File 1678 (Edelson) bans the use of restraints on juveniles during court appearances, unless that is the only way to keep everyone safe or prevent kids from fleeing. The bill also authorizes arresting officers to divert kids into alternatives-to-incarceration programs rather than place them in custody.

Gender-based violence ($2.0 million)

House File 734 (Rep. Aisha Gomez, DFL-Minneapolis) would eliminate the statute of limitations on 1st- through 4th-degree criminal sexual conduct. A related bill, House File 480 (Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake), also included in the omnibus, would do away with the statute of limitations on sex trafficking crimes.

House File 464 (O’Neill) appropriates $783,000 each year in 2020-21 for grants to domestic abuse transformation programs. House File 530 (Rep. Brian Johnson, R-Cambridge) spends $400,000 a year over two years on similar grants aimed at helping military veterans and their families affected by domestic violence.

House File 74 (Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein, DFL-New Brighton) revives a measure that was vetoed with last year’s Omnibus Prime bill. It eliminates a 5th-degree sexual conduct exclusion for touching someone’s rear end through their clothing.

House File 70 (Kunesh-Podein) revives the Task Force on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, another measure that passed last year and was lost to Gov. Mark Dayton’s supplemental budget veto. It allocates $150,000 over two years to establish the task force.

Bail and jail reform ($1.8 million)

This area consists of only two bills, the second of which appears to account for all of the money spent.

House File 1399 (Considine) allocates $1.8 million to reviving an ombudsman’s office for state prisons. The office would act as a kind of complaints department for both inmates and corrections staff, but it also would have both investigative and subpoena powers.

House File 741 (Rep. Mohamud Noor, DFL-Minneapolis). This bill would require courts to release misdemeanor defendants on their own recognizance, without requiring bail, except for certain crimes like driving while impaired and domestic abuse.

Collateral consequences ($1.8 million)

This area took up a lot of committee time since the start of session. It includes these bills and a number others:

House File 2128 (Mariani) would establish an “indeterminate sentence release board”—or a parole board. This is a priority of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell, who wants to share the burden of determining who gets paroled. But Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Warren Limmer has shied away from it, saying it is too major a policy change to be considered during a busy budget cycle.

House File 981 (Rep. Jerry Hertaus, R-Greenfield) is the Uniform Collateral Consequences of Conviction Act. It has many elements, but primarily it would require peace officers and the courts to inform offenders about collateral consequences that stem from guilty pleas. Often offenders find themselves disqualified from employment, housing and access to government benefits post-conviction, despite serving out their sentences.

House File 40 (Dehn) would reestablish felons’ right to vote upon release from incarceration, or upon sentencing if no incarceration is imposed.

Final note

Another piece of legislation also turned up missing in action when the omnibus bill was described to committee members—apparently through an oversight.

That was O’Neill’s ignition interlock bill, House File 1589. Among other provisions, the bill would require device manufacturers to pay any towing or repair costs caused by device failure or malfunction of an interlock device.

Mariani described the bill as being part of the omnibus in his introduction to the bill, but its author pointed out that it was not actually present anywhere in the text.

“Let’s make sure it gets in the bill,” Mariani said.

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