Judiciary/public safety bill awaits gubernatorial action


Headed to the governor’s desk is a conference committee report that funds the state’s judiciary branch and aims to keep Minnesotans safe.

Sponsored by Rep. Steve Smith (R-Mound) and Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove), HF440/ SF958* was passed 71-61. It was approved 36-28 by the Senate two days earlier. The bill would spend almost $1.8 billion from the General Fund.

“Our priorities included funding our courts and protecting our constitutional rights and statutory mandates,” said Smith.

In relation to its projected baseline for the 2012-13 biennium, the Supreme Court, district courts, Court of Appeals and Board of Public Defense would receive a 1.2 percent increase.

“The Tax Court is given a $70,000 or a 4.4 percent increase,” Smith said. “The Board of Judicial Standards is increased $28,000, or 3.2 percent, to restore funding for investigations and hearings on judicial and misconduct cases. The Sentencing Guidelines Commission and Uniform Laws Commission is held constant at base levels. The Guardian ad Litem Board is reduced $1.5 million, or 6.1 percent, with a directive to prioritize cases of abuse and neglect over family law cases.”

Civil Legal Services would be reduced by $4 million, or 16.9 percent, to shift those resources into the courts. However, it would receive $1.2 million in special revenue from attorney registration fees.

The bill aims to address sexually exploited youth by creating a safe harbor policy to protect juveniles involved in prostitution and sex trafficking. It provides that a juvenile under age 16 cannot be prosecuted for a prostitution offense under the state’s delinquency code. A 16- or 17-year-old alleged to have committed a first-time prostitution offense must be referred to diversion or child protection.

“It also directs the Department of Public Safety to develop a statewide victim services model for sexually exploited youth, if funding is provided through a private donor or gift,” Smith said.

In the area of public safety, the report cuts almost $12 million from the Office of Justice Programs, transfers $8.5 million from a fire safety training account and $5.2 million from a 911 emergency system account to the General Fund and takes $1 million from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.

The report calls for a 65 percent reduction to the Department of Human Rights, and directs that the remaining money be used on enforcement measures while eliminating the department’s state-funded education and research responsibilities.

“We absolutely need this agency to help enforce our laws which are intended to help all Minnesotans,” said Rep. Joe Mullery  (DFL-Mpls). “This bill really hurts our businesses because it cuts the efforts to help those businesses comply with our laws and avoid huge fines.”

The bill would also require offenders with 60 days or less remaining in their sentences to serve that time in a county jail or workhouse, and require the state to participate in the Department of Homeland Security’s Secure Communities Initiative.