St. Paul - A state legislative committee voted Wednesday to close a loophole that allowed admitted sex offenders to drive school buses in Minnesota.
KARE 11 exposed the issue last year as part of a continuing investigation into “Minnesota’s Secret Sex Offenders.”
From bus drivers to babysitters, KARE 11’s investigation discovered that hundreds of sexual predators with dangerous secrets were kept hidden from the public by Minnesota’s legal system.
KARE 11 documented cases in which people accused of sex crimes involving children received plea deals known as Stays of Adjudication. The defendants admitted their guilt in open court, but as part of the agreement judges delayed officially accepting the plea.
Instead of prison, they were sentenced to probation. If they successfully completed it, the criminal case against them was dismissed without a conviction.
The result: Secret sex offenders. No registration on Minnesota’s official sex offender registry. And no record of a crime on the court’s public online database.
KARE 11 discovered the plea deal wouldn’t even show up on the background check required for school bus drivers in Minnesota. Records show that Glenn David Johnson admitted to molesting a 14-year-old girl, got a Stay of Adjudication, and went on to get a job driving kids to school. Later he was convicted of molesting another girl.
Members of the House Committee on Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee viewed portions of the KARE 11 investigation and heard testimony from the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Violence.
“I think it’s really important that we do have the Stays of Adjudication with regard to criminal sexual conduct as a disqualifying offense for school bus drivers,” said Caroline Palmer of the Coalition.
Although some members said the language may need to be tightened, the committee voted unanimously to approve a bill introduced by Rep. Matt Grossell (R-District: 02A) to bar offenders who receive a Stay of Adjudication for serious crimes from driving school buses. It also requires Stays of Adjudication show up on their background checks.
“This is important information for the public to have access to, to protect our kids,” Grossell said.
“I think it is important that we take care of these background checks and we make certain that we disqualify people that are unsafe,” said Rep. Debra Hilstrom (DFL-District: 40B).
The bill which advanced Wednesday is one of several proposals to close loopholes that hide cases against accused child molesters from public view.
Rep. Grossell also has proposed legislation that increases transparency by requiring the Minnesota Court system to put case information of people receiving Stays of Adjudication on their public online database.
Meanwhile, the Minnesota Senate is considering a bill to require prosecutors to file a report each year explaining to the legislature exactly why they agreed to a Stay of Adjudication in a criminal sex case.
California outlawed the use of Stays of Adjudication in child sexual conduct cases in 2005. But none of the current proposals in Minnesota call for a total ban on them.