Not to be outdone by their Senate counterpart, the House committees on Judiciary and Public Safety are heading out of the Capitol together this week. But their road will be considerably shorter than the Senate’s.
On Jan. 21, the Senate Judiciary committee, which doubles as the upper chambers Public Safety committee, went to Hibbing for a cantankerous information-only hearing on six gun bills.
On Jan. 29, the two House committees will go just across town, to the Mitchell Hamline School of Law. But their topic — “Race and the Law” — might be just as thorny and impassioned as the Hibbing hearing.
“It could be a very uncomfortable conversation,” said House Public Safety Chair Carlos Mariani, DFL-St. Paul. “But we have to have it.”
The talk will focus on policing, pretrial, trial issues, post-conviction issues and victims — all through the lens of race. There will be no bill presentations.
Speakers at the event include University of Minnesota Law School instructor Perry Moriearty; Hennepin County District Court Judge Tanya Bransford; state Justice Research Center Executive Director Rob Stewart; and several others.
The Judiciary Committee chair, Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, said he thinks the hearing will help the House frame its criminal-justice reform agenda for 2020.
“I will promise you this,” Lesch said. “There will not be a single bill that goes through Judiciary or Public safety this year without those of us in the leadership of those committees looking at how it impacts race and Minnesotans.”
The hearing begins at 5 p.m., in the Mitchell Hamline School of Law Auditorium, 875 Summit Ave., in St. Paul. A reception follows.
Mariani’s committee will actually pull double duty that day. At 2 p.m. Wednesday, in the Capitol, his Public Safety Committee will meet jointly with House Corrections to discuss another piece of the DFL’s criminal-justice agenda—prison reform.
That hearing, in Room 200 of the State Office Building, will tackle the costs of prison and probation in both financial and social terms.
That also could be a tough conversation, Mariani said. The ultimate objective, he said, is to reduce the prison population. In the long run, that could lead to the need for fewer prisons—and in turn, fewer jobs.
But prisons are overused, he said. During a tour of the Stillwater facility last January, Mariani said, a guard pointed to several offenders incarcerated because of technical violations. “‘They really should be dealt with outside of prison, because they are making our work awfully hard,’” Mariani said the guard told him.
In part, the afternoon hearing will address a better potential use of prison resources, he said. “Maybe there isn’t one,” Mariani said. “Maybe this is the answer. But we deserve to have that public conversation. Because we are not talking about a cheap enterprise when it comes to the prisons.”