ST. PAUL - A state legislative committee took the first step Tuesday toward reforming the way Minnesota punishes sexual predators.
The House Public Safety Committee heard testimony on a bill proposed by Rep. Matt Grossell (R-Dist 2A) in the wake of a KARE 11 investigation that exposed loopholes that allow some sex offenders to avoid state prison and keep their crimes against children largely secret.
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“We’ve got to take a hard look this statute,” Grossell said.
Victims of child sexual assault called for tougher sentences for those who rape and sexually exploit children.
“The minimum sentencing guidelines in Minnesota are a disaster,” said abuse survivor April Kane.
“The laws in Minnesota are horrific and the worst in the nation,” argued Judy Rangel, another abuse survivor.
Rep. Grossell’s sweeping proposal includes doing away with so-called “Stays of Adjudication” which allow defendants to plead guilty to a felony, but have charges dropped if they compete probation.
At the committee hearing Grossell played a recent KARE 11 investigation that exposed how those plea deals allow offenders to escape conviction, stay off the state’s sex offender registry, and keep records about their case out of Minnesota’s online public court records system.
While the Minnesota Sheriff’s Association supports the bill, the Minnesota County Attorneys Association and even some advocates for sex assault victims argued against a total ban on the plea deals in question.
“Stays of Adjudication should continue to be an available tool to prosecutors to use with discretion particularly for young juveniles without prior record,” said Jeanne Ronayne, Executive Director of the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
State Rep. Nick Zerwas (R - District: 30A) suggested keeping the option of Stays of Adjudication, but taking away some of the secrecy that surrounds them.
“We ought to just put in your bill that those stays need to be searchable on line and in our court systems,” Zerwas said.
Other portions of Rep. Grossell’s bill would increase penalties for child pornography and order the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission to toughen recommended sentences for sex crimes.
Lawmakers are still wrestling with the details of the plan.
“I believe that there are things that we should change, I believe that we have a lot of work to do between now and time we pass a bill,” said Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL - District: 40B).
In spite of the disagreements, the committee agreed to move the reform bill forward for possible inclusion in an Omnibus bill later in the session.