In the Spotlight

News & Features
Go to Session 2004
DocumentSession 2004
DocumentFinance and taxes
DocumentHealth Care
DocumentPublic Safety
DocumentSocial Issues
DocumentSocial Services
DocumentStadium Issues
More from MPR
Your Voice
DocumentJoin the conversation with other MPR listeners in the News Forum.

DocumentE-mail this pageDocumentPrint this page
House approves life terms for most violent sex crimes
Larger view
Republican Steve Smith of Mound, says more money is needed because the state must pay the price to lock up violent sex offenders. (MPR Photo/Laura McCallum)
The Minnesota House has voted overwhelmingly for a bill that would lock up the most violent sex offenders for life. The judiciary finance bill would also create tougher penalties for making methamphetamine, and merge the state's Gang Strike Force with regional drug task forces.

St. Paul, Minn. — The judiciary finance bill puts an additional $15.6 million into public safety programs at a time when the state faces a projected $160 million deficit. The bill's sponsor, Republican Steve Smith of Mound, says the extra money is warranted, because the state must pay the price to lock up violent sex offenders.

"Sex offenders, members, pose a significant threat to public safety. They are unique in their psychological makeup. They are particularly likely to continue to be dangerous after their release from imprisonment," Smith said.

The bill creates a sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole for the most violent sex offenders. Other felony sex crimes would be subject to open-ended sentences with the possibility of life in prison.

Rep. Tom Rukavina, DFL-Virginia, says the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission estimates the longer sentences will cost $63 million a year by the year 2025. He says Republicans have no long-term plan to pay for increased prison costs.

"Representative Smith, I don't disagree with you at all that a lot of these people should be locked up and the keys should be thrown away. But Representative Smith and members over on that side of the aisle, you have to start paying for things," Rukavina said.

Smith told Rukavina that putting sex offenders in prison is cheaper than civilly committing them to secure psychiatric hospitals. He says the bill is a move away from trying to rehabilitate sex offenders, and focuses on locking them up.

Rep. Keith Ellison, DFL-Minneapolis, says the bill is an overreaction to the kidnapping of missing college student Dru Sjodin.

"I question the idea that horrible, sad, bad events should inform major sweeping changes in law," Ellison said.

Ellison says the man charged in Sjodin's kidnapping, Alfonso Rodriguez Jr., is a Level 3 sex offender who should have been civilly committed. He says the judiciary bill doesn't address the problems that led to the release of Rodriguez, but instead overhauls the way the state deals with sex offenders. It creates a new review board to decide if and when offenders would be released.

Ellison says the board would be more subjective than current sentencing guidelines, and could result in racial bias. Ellison and 12 other Democrats voted against the bill; 117 lawmakers voted for it.

The bill would also create tougher penalties for manufacturing methamphetamine. It would limit the sale of over-the-counter drugs used to make meth to three packages. And it would merge the state's Gang Strike Force with regional drug task forces.

Rep. Phil Krinkie, R-Shoreview, opposed the merger. He says the gang strike force has been successful in tracking illegal gang activity. He says members of the strike force think the merger is a bad idea, because gang and drug investigations aren't the same.

"Gangs are drastically different, operate in drastically different types of ways, it's a different type of work, it's a different type of profession. Members, I think we need to respect the people who do this work, who've been doing this work, who've been extremely successful at doing it, and not muck it up for them," Krinkie said.

The merger has the support of the Minnesota Sheriff's Association and the Police Chief's Association.

Rep. Dale Walz, a Brainerd police officer, says the merger makes sense.

"There's a definite marriage between drugs and gangs. I could cite a couple cases up where I'm from, but I don't know if there resolved yet, where there was a definite relationship between methamphetamine and gangs," he said.

An attempt to remove the merger from the bill failed by a vote of 33-94.

The judiciary bill will eventually end up in conference committee with a Senate bill still taking shape. The Senate bill does not include the gang strike force merger, and it also doesn't create a sentence of life without parole for sex offenders. Under the Senate bill, sex offenders would be given open-ended sentences with a maximum of life in prison.

Respond to this story
News Headlines
Related Subjects