Public safety bill includes sex offender treatment, school safety and forensics lab funding

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Largely resembling the recommendations of the governor, the omnibus public safety finance and policy bill contains a combined $57.03 million increase in base funding for departments within the committee’s jurisdiction.

“Ninety-five percent of what I have done here follows the governor’s recommendations,” said Rep. Michael Paymar (DFL-St. Paul), who sponsors HF724.

Approved Tuesday by the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee, the bill, as amended with a delete-all amendment, is scheduled to be heard Thursday by the House Ways and Means Committee.

What’s in the bill?

The following are selected bills that have been incorporated in part or in whole into the omnibus public safety finance and policy bill.

“It’s not a terrible bill,” said Rep. Tony Cornish (R-Vernon Center), the committee’s Republican lead.

Of the new funding, $38 million — 2 percent each year — is for salary adjustments for Corrections Department personnel, something Paymar said was agreed to by Gov. Mark Dayton and the department.

The $1.3 billion bill would allocate an additional $3 million in the biennium for additional beds to treat sex offenders. The money is from a leftover balance in the department’s MINNCOR program, where inmates produce goods and services used by the department or sold. “We have a lot of sex offenders in our institutions, and only 30 percent of them are getting any treatment. Ninety-five percent of sex offenders are going to be released,” Paymar said. “I think it’s irresponsible on our part and the department’s part not to provide sex offender treatment to those offenders who are incarcerated.

“This doesn’t get us close to where we need to be, but, as I understand, this maybe brings us up to close to half of the sex offenders that will be treated,” Paymar said.

Within the Department of Public Safety budget is $1.06 million in new money to restart the Minnesota School Safety Center.

“I think in light of the school shootings that have happened in Minnesota and elsewhere, that this is probably a good expenditure to ensure that the school districts are getting the proper technical training on how to deal with active shooting, lockdown planning, developing school safety plans in case there was a shooter in one of those school districts,” Paymar said.

To fund a replacement of the state’s antiquated criminal history and crime reporting systems, the bill would provide about $9 million in new money.

The bill also would provide $400,000 in General Fund money to hire four new scientists at the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s forensic laboratory to help with the backlog, and $250,000 in General Fund money to replace some outdated equipment. “This probably isn’t enough, but again, it’s what the governor recommended,” Paymar said. Matching amounts would also come from a special revenue fund.

An additional $3 million would be appropriated for more crime victim assistance grants, $922,000 in additional funding would be used for youth intervention programs and an extra $300,000 would go toward a community offender re-entry program in and around Duluth.

“I wish that we could have put a lot more money … into re-entry programs statewide,” Paymar said. “When we put obstacles in their way — they’re already a felon — and if they can’t get housing, if they don’t have job-training, if they can’t get a job then they’re going right back into the system.”

Funding is also included for the Department of Human Rights to add two full-time equivalent positions to its compliance staff at a cost of $258,000.

As for policy, the bill would create enhanced penalties for repeat sex offenders, would create a presumptive mandatory minimum sentence of three years for certain repeat sex offenders and would remove a prohibition on using trunk highway funds to fund BCA expenses and pay tort claims.

A companion bill, SF671, sponsored by Sen. Ron Latz (DFL-St. Louis Park), is scheduled to be heard Friday by the Senate Finance Committee.