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Gov. Tim Walz conducts a press briefing on new road safety laws last week in Rochester. (Photo: Office of the Governor)

Sex offenses, parental rights, DWI addressed in new laws

We all know by now that Minnesotans can’t drive while holding cell phones anymore. But there are some other new laws of interest to attorneys that went that into effect on Aug. 1. Here’s a sampling.

DWI changes

New law was enacted in 2019 as part of the Public Safety and Judiciary omnibus bill that changes how the state deals with people who drive under the influence.

Under the new law, snowmobile, all-terrain vehicle and motorboat operating privileges get revoked when an offender fails a lawfully administered DWI test. The penalty applies regardless of what vehicle was being driven at the time.

The new law conforms to 2018’s “Little Alan’s Law,” which expanded prohibitions on operating off-road vehicles following a DWI conviction.

The new statute also expands the list of prior convictions that enhance an offense to felony first-degree DWI. That list now includes impaired driving-related criminal convictions in other states, provided the other state’s statutes conform to Minnesota’s.

Sex offenses

A bevy of new sexual conduct offense provisions also passed with the Public Safety omnibus bill. They include:

  • A new requirement that sentencing judges provide written justification for stays of adjudication given to felony criminal sexual conduct offenders.
  • A new law providing criminal penalties for adults who have sex with teens over whom they held positions of authority within the past 120 days. Until now, that was a crime only when the adult was responsible for the health, welfare or supervision of the minor at the time of the offense.
  • A new 15-year maximum prison term for dissemination of child pornography for a profit, or for using a minor in a sexual performance or pornographic work if the victim is under age 13, or if the offender is a repeat offender or registered predator.
  • A new 10-year maximum sentence for possession of child pornography that features victims under the age of 13.
  • The end of the butt-touch exemption. This law, in the works for several years, eliminates an exclusion from fifth-degree criminal-sex conduct prosecution for offenders who intentionally touch the clothing covering someone’s buttocks, if their intent is sexual or aggressive.
  • New language that prohibits peace officers from having sex with anyone who is physically restrained or otherwise does not feel free to leave the scene. Consent cannot be used as a defense.
  • Finally, a new law that requires predatory offenders who commit registerable offense in another state to register in Minnesota, provided they spend more than 30 days a year in Minnesota.

Parental rights

Parents whose rights have been terminated now have latitude to petition the courts to reestablish the legal parent-child relationship. Previously, only county attorneys could file those petitions.

The law does away with a requirement that the child must be at least 15 years old before reunification. In exchange for that concession, county attorneys negotiated in language that extends the time a child must spend in foster care before reunification. That is now 48 months after the termination order is filed. It used to be 36 months.

Under the new law, if a parent’s petition is denied after a hearing, the court must issue a written order barring a subsequent petition by the parent. The court also must provide the length of the time the parent is barred, make written findings supporting the order and evaluate the best interests of the child.

Reckless on rails

Metro Transit light-rail train drivers are no longer exempted from the state’s reckless and careless driving laws.

A new law closes a legal loophole that authorities said blocked them from prosecuting a light-rail operator after he blasted through a red light in St. Paul and killed local dancer and choreographer Nicholas Westlake, 29.

Careless or reckless driving is a misdemeanor punishable by a maximum penalty of 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. Reckless driving causing great bodily harm or death is a gross misdemeanor, with a maximum penalty of one year in jail and a $3,000 fine.

Slow pokes

It no longer is just polite to slide over to the right if you’re driving too slowly. Now it is a law that applies to drivers on both freeways and two-lane roads.

Slow-moving divers on roadways with only have one lane in the direction of travel must move as close to the curb or shoulder of the road “as practicable,” the new law says.

Where there is more than one lane of traffic going one direction, drivers must move out of the left-most lane and let faster drivers pass. A citation could cost violators $50, plus $75 in court fees.

The law does not apply when a vehicle is preparing to use a left-hand highway exit. It also does not apply to emergency vehicles.

The provisions were included in the omnibus transportation bill. “Even someone driving just a few miles below the speed limit in the left lane has been shown to harm the flow of traffic,” said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, who authored the bill.

Tribal jurisdiction

A new law gives the Prairie Island Indian Community of the Mdewakanton Dakota concurrent jurisdiction with the county sheriff for reservation law enforcement.

That holds true even if there is no cooperative agreement in place with the local sheriff. Before now, the community’s tribal police were not allowed to enforce state laws on tribal lands without a cooperative agreement with the county sheriff.

The bill’s author, Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein, DFL-New Brighton, told House Public Safety committee members on May 13 that the restriction prevented tribal police from simple tasks like pulling over traffic violators or issuing citations.

That’s an insult to capable tribal police officers who, like sheriff’s deputies and municipal cops, are trained and certified by the Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, she said.

The new law allows tribal police agencies to continue forming cooperative agreements with other local law enforcement agencies, Kunesh-Podein said.

Source: House Public Information Services, staff reports

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