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Myron Frans
After a caution from Management and Budget Commissioner Myron Frans, shown during a 2018 briefing, lawmakers applied the brakes on the veterans bill so it wouldn’t pass during an ongoing bond sale. (AP file photo)

Bar Buzz: Veterans Restorative Justice Act on hold

It passed the Senate unanimously during the third special session on Aug. 12. Nonetheless, the Veterans Restorative Justice Act is on hold again.

Blame outgoing MMB Commissioner Myron Frans. But maybe cut him a little slack, too. By all accounts, he was trying to act responsibly during a bond-sale quiet period.

The bill, in its simplest terms, provides a uniform framework for Minnesota courts to use when dealing with veterans who get in trouble because of service-related disorders.

If it became law, veterans whose crimes are rated at severity level 7 or below on the state’s criminal and drug sentencing grids could take part in the program — but only if their charges can be traced to service-related mental health or chemical dependency problems. There are mechanisms laid out for determining that.

In one of those oddities that one associates mostly with government, the bill—which would save the state a projected $1.3 million—was shelved by House leaders out of fear that if it passed during an ongoing bond sale, it might put the balance sheets out of whack. That could give the ratings agencies pause.

“It’s my understanding that anything that would potentially affect Minnesota’s financial position during this bond sale can’t be acted on,” said the bill’s author, Rep. Rob Ecklund, DFL-International Falls. “It would change the budget.”

Sen. Julie Rosen, R-Vernon Center, the Senate Finance chair, told senators on the floor Wednesday that a “very concerned” Frans told her the same thing. But because Senate leaders were confident it would save money, they decided it didn’t matter.

“We are working this out,” she said. “It’s going to be a good bill. We are moving forward.”

But senators will have to do that again if they want it to become law — which apparently they do. Third Special Session Senate File 14, authored by Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, passed the Senate last week by a 67-0 vote.

But the House did nothing with it. So the bill, which has made many House stops over the past two years and once got as far as the floor to await a vote, is on hold for at least another month. If it’s taken up, both chambers will have to start all over again.

Ecklund said he hopes it will reappear either in September, during the next anticipated special session, or in October — for Special Session V.

Though it got unanimous Senate support, the bill was lightly chastised by Senate Judiciary Committee Chair Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, who cautioned against repeat performances. The vets’ bill ultimately directs judges to dismiss the charges, if vets complete the program.

“We’re making rules now and putting demands on the Judicial Branch,” Limmer said. “We’re getting close to going over a little bit of a line on separation of power.”

Limmer voted yes, though, saying “it’s appropriate at this time.” But he cautioned against expanding similar dispensation to other groups besides veterans, should it become law.

“We can get ourselves on a slippery slope,” he said. “I think it’s important to caution ourselves.”

Frans, incidentally, is leaving MMB to take a job at the University of Minnesota. One of his predecessors, Jim Schowalter, is stepping in to take back his old job as MMB chief.

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About Kevin Featherly

Kevin Featherly, who joined BridgeTower Media in mid-2016, is a journalist and former freelance writer who has covered politics, law, business, technology and popular culture for publications and websites in the Twin Cities and nationally since the mid-1990s.

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