2012 Legislative Review
The overriding sentiment at the legislature this session seemed to be that not a lot would be accomplished. Near the end of the session, with first deadlines passed, it looks like that view will hold true. In the area of criminal justice laws, very little of significance will have changed as a result of this session. Unlike in past years, there will not be a judiciary policy omnibus bill.
That being said, we did make some good progress in educating legislators about collateral consequences, especially regarding juveniles, and bringing a bipartisan group of legislators together with a wide range of community groups to support positive reforms and help defeat others. We need to keep in mind that reforms generally only come from multi-year efforts and through long-term relationship building. We will be back, and because of the work we’ve done this year, and with your support, we will be stronger!
Please see below for the latest updates on legislation of note, and contact me if you have any questions.
Council on Crime and Justice
Juvenile Records Protection HF876/SF602
Currently, records are public for 16 and 17 year-olds charged with a felony level offense even if the charge is later reduced or dismissed. Except for the most serious offenses, this legislation allows judges to decide, on a case-by-case basis, if a felony level charge of a 16 or 17 year old is serious or violent enough to warrant a public hearing and record. More information.
Unfortunately, despite a strong lobbying effort from a variety of partner organizations and individuals, this legislation was stalled in the Senate when opposition from the County Attorneys Association caused the Senate Judiciary Chair, Senator Limmer, to decide there was too much controversy associated with the change given the limited time remaining before deadlines. Click here for Mark Haase’s final note to Senator Limmer.
We did not think we were going to get a hearing on this bill at all, but made it on to the agenda in the House Judiciary Policy and Finance Committee. The bill was first heard with only a few minutes before the hearing was set to adjourn. Council VP Mark Haase briefly testified in favor of the bill; Tom Arneson, a Hennepin County juvenile prosecutor, testified in opposition. According to Arneson, the county attorneys opposed the bill for three reasons: 1) shrouding the juvenile justice system in secrecy will lead to problems, including geographic disparities in the treatment of matters; 2) the procedure for creating a public hearing and record is unclear; and 3) the current expungement law addresses any ongoing issues juveniles may experience as a result of their record.
Our positions on the county attorneys’ objections are:
The issue of geographic disparities: These disparities already exist, just in different parts of the system before the judge sees the case. These disparities often translate to the racial disparities we see. Minnesota’s Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee’s 2011 report stated that 26.6% of all Minnesota youth under age 18 represent racial or ethnic minority groups. But, youth from racial or ethnic minority groups constitute 50% of delinquent findings in cases where race is known. This legislation will not increase these disparities, it will help to prevent these disparities from translating into a disproportionate impact upon communities of color, and help to alleviate some of the disparities we already see in education, employment, and housing.
Regarding procedure: The courts can use this statutory framework to incorporate the change into their Rules of Juvenile Procedure. If there need to be any language changes to assist with this, we would be happy to work with the courts to make those changes as this bill moves along.
On the issue of expungement: Juvenile expungement law is far from settled and is not a complete remedy. Judges have interpreted the law in different ways, often not sealing records, and a recent Court of Appeals case on the issue that would provide a better remedy has been appealed to the Supreme Court. Even if the law becomes more settled and a better remedy is created by the courts, by the time a juvenile can get an expungement, if they can pay an attorney to represent them or find someone to do it pro bono, it will be too late. Data collection companies who will have harvested the public data in the meantime will still have that information and are not subject to an expungement order. Opportunities will also have already been missed in a young person’s most formative years.
Testimony continued on March 20th. Sarah Walker, COO of 180 Degrees, Jackie Nichols, a Carver County juvenile probation officer and representative of the Minnesota Corrections Association, and Derek Madsen, Program Executive with the YMCA, testified in support. There was no more testimony in opposition and the bill passed the committee unanimously and was moved to the General Register. Unfortunately, as noted above, the bill did not get a hearing in the Senate and therefore more likely than not will not be voted on by the entire House.
The Council has worked hard to broaden the support of this bill over the last couple of years. The legislation is now part of the legislative agenda of the MN Corrections Association, the MN Second Chance Coalition, and the MN Assoc. of Criminal Defense Lawyers. It is also supported by the MN Assoc. of Community Corrections Act Counties, the MN Assoc. of Community Probation Officers, and the MN Juvenile Detention Association.
Adult Expungement HF2723 SF2177
This legislation would have allowed stayed adjudications and all diversion program cases to get sealed at all government record sources, and created a non-petition administrative sealing process. We were able to get a bill introduced that had strong bipartisan support, with Representative Kelby Woodard as the author in the House and Senator Julianne Ortman in the Senate. It passed the House Public Safety Committee with a unanimous vote after testimony by Council Board Member Bob Johnson and VP Mark Haase. However, one part of the legislation later received unexpected opposition regarding how it might impact juvenile records under new case law and changes were not able to be made in time to meet deadline so the bill was removed from the agenda in the Judiciary Committee where it had been referred.
Ban the Box for Private Employers HF 1448/SF1122
In 2009 Minnesota became one of the first states to require all public employers to remove questions about criminal records from employment applications (“Ban the Box”). This policy reform can be safely applied to private employers, and will also help protect them from discriminatory hiring lawsuits while providing fair work opportunities for all Minnesotans. More information.
Despite the bipartisan support of this bill in the legislature, The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the Minnesota Business Partnership, and the Minnesota Retailers Association all opposed it. Members of the Minnesota Second Chance Coalition met with their representatives to try to get their support, but were not able to. They did agree to a continuing dialogue on the issues.
Licensing Background Checks
The Council worked closely with the Board of Nursing on their legislation requiring a background check for nurses. We were able to get them to remove permanent barriers and make other improvements.
When the bill came up in the Senate Judiciary Committee, the concerns legislators had with its listing of certain crimes of disqualification and broad definition of conviction caused it to be laid on the table (not passed).
There were several other new licensing background check bills being heard that day, such as for dentists and social workers. Council VP Mark Haase was called on to answer questions about BCA records information. Senator Limmer, the Judiciary Chair, asked for amendments to all the bills that would only allow them to consider convictions rather than broad definitions of “conduct” or “criminal behavior”. We are very appreciative of Senator Limmer’s efforts to narrow the scope and potential adverse impact on people with nonconvition records of these bills. There was also much discussion of the need for more uniform background check statutes, which we support.
It is not clear which if any of these bills will pass, but expect them to reappear next year. We will continue to monitor development and work with the various stakeholders.
Voting Rights HF2327 SF2043
Governor Dayton recently created a taskforce to look at the issue of felons voting when they are still on paper. As a result, legislation was introduced to require the Secretary of State and Department of Corrections and probation to notify people of their right to vote, and get accurate and current information to the polling places. It also reduces registering to vote from a felony to a gross misdemeanor. While the Council does not oppose this legislation, we feel it is a waste of taxpayer resources when a simpler, less expensive, and better way to deal with this issue exists – let those convicted of a felony who are living in the community vote, only prohibit those convicted of a felony and in jail or prison from voting. More information on felon voting. Council VP Mark Haase testified in House and Senate Committees regarding this better solution. We are also asking the authors to make a small amendment that would further clarify the notice at start of probation so it is clear to people that their right to vote is automatically restored when they complete all felony sentences.
This bill did not get heard in the Senate in time for deadline and looks to be done for the session.
Hospitality Background Checks
As a result of some incidents in a motel and hotel that occurred last year, legislation was introduced that would have limited who can work in hotels and motels throughout the state. It would have prohibited employment in this large sector of our economy for someone’s entire life for crimes such as 3rd degree assault, indecent exposure, and prostitution. We raised our concerns with the authors and worked with the Minnesota Hospitality Association to try and limit the scope of this legislation. Fortunately, it appears that the problems with the legislation are not able to be resolved in time to make deadline.
Department of Human Services Background Studies
The Council has been working with Legal Services Advocacy Project on this Department of Human Services legislation that affects so many people throughout the state. We were able to get new barriers removed. Also, the part we support would be very beneficial. It would allow someone who receives a set-aside for a past criminal record to take that set aside with them to a new position, rather than needing to go through the entire appeals process again. We will continue to monitor and support the current version of the bills. It is not yet clear if they will be able to meet deadline.
Upcoming Volunteer Advocate Trainings:
Tuesday, May 7th: 5-9pm
Thursday, May 9th: 5-9pm
Monday, May 13th: 5-9pm
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