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Katie's Law Highlights Crime Package
by Laura McCallum
January 10, 2000
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Minnesota House Republicans are joining the growing call for tougher sex-offender laws. Republicans detailed a crime prevention package that includes a law named after Katie Poirier, the Barnum teenager who was kidnapped and believed killed last year. DFL legislators and the Ventura administration also support better tracking of repeat sex offenders, but some lawmakers worry the governor won't approve money for a stronger system this session.

THE CORNERSTONE of the House Republicans' crime-fighting plan is the so-called "Katie's Law," designed to track repeat sex offenders. Rich Stanek of Maple Grove, who chairs the House Crime Prevention Committee, says about a fourth of the state's 12,000 registered sex offenders are currently out of jail on some form of release.
Stanek: We only know about 40 percent of where our sex offenders live, meaning 60 percent of them are out there in our communities across Minnesota; we have no idea where they are.
The law would create a statewide computer system to track repeat criminals, make it a felony if sex offenders don't register with local law enforcement, and require them to register for life. That last provision may create legal hurdles; the U.S. Supreme Court effectively killed a similar law in Pennsylvania, letting stand a state Supreme Court ruling that called the law "constitutionally repugnant."

The GOP plan includes some of the recommendations developed by the Katie Poirier Abduction Task Force. Poirier's family supports the package. Her grandfather, Lloyd Simich, says he's glad lawmakers are trying to address an issue that angers Minnesotans.
Simich: If the legislators are looking, is this a subject, yeah, I think it's probably number one in the state. I'm probably in a circle that maybe gives it a little more attention to it, but hey, if people are that concerned, I'm thinking that maybe we should mention that people send letters maybe to Jesse and your legislators, and let the feeling be known.
Governor Ventura backs a better tracking system and tougher sex offender registration laws, according to his public safety commissioner, Charlie Weaver. But the governor has said he doesn't want to authorize spending on new programs this session - a non-budget year - and Republicans estimate a Hennepin County pilot project for the enhanced computer system will cost $15 million. Weaver wouldn't say whether the governor would sign or veto spending for "Katie's Law."
Weaver: It's too early to conjecture about that, because frankly, we don't have anything from Hennepin County telling us how much it's going to cost. Not one single word. But that doesn't matter to us, I mean the goal here is to get it done. We're going to get the job done.
House Republican leaders say they generally support the governor's goal of keeping down extra spending this session, but they're going to argue that the crime package should be considered "emergency spending," semantics that may or may not sway the governor.

"Katie's Law" seems likely to sail through the Legislature and land on the governor's desk, according to DFL Representative Wes Skoglund of Minneapolis, who's authored numerous crime prevention packages in the past. He says a better computer tracking system will prove to be the most effective criminal-justice tool for law enforcement.
Skoglund: We all agree; it's not partisan, we agree on this. The last time we had a hearing on this I said, we have 63 Democrat votes, we'll put those up, and sounds like the Republicans are going to put their votes up. The key is, though, that it should be coming from new money, we ought not to be taking it from schools, we ought not to be taking it from somewhere else, this is money that we just ought to be putting forward to pay for it.
Skoglund says the cost of the computer system will only increase over time, so the state would be wise to spend the money now. The Republican package also includes legislation allowing schools to give information to law enforcement without fear of liability, and a piece cracking down on drunk drivers by making the fourth DUI in 10 years a felony.

The plan doesn't include funding to address a potential $7-$8 million budget shortfall in the state's court system.