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Key state Senate committee clears GOP public safety bill

The measure aims for tougher sentences for violent criminals and bonuses to boost police recruitment.

ST PAUL, Minn. — Tougher sentences for violent offenders, bonuses for police and new rules for judges and prosecutors.  They were all to be found in the crime prevention bill the Senate Public Safety Committee passed Friday afternoon.

Sen. Warren Limmer, the Maple Grove Republican who chairs the committee, created the bill by combining a dozen smaller bills into one measure to move through the rest of the process.

He said it's a response to the crime wave that's has hit Minnesota and the rest of the nation, plus the need to make sure the judicial system is honoring the laws the legislature has put on the books.

"This is a time to address the safety of our citizens and this bill focuses on improving our law enforcement, our training in law enforcement, recruiting, retention," Sen. Limmer told reporters Friday.

The bill includes an array of bonuses for officers, including a $10,000 hiring bonus, a one-time $3,000 retention bonus for all current officers, plus a $7,000 bonus for an officer on the verge of retirement who agrees to stay on an extra five years.

Limmer's bill also includes tougher sentences for those who commit violent crimes with firearms, repeat violent offenders and convicted carjackers. It would make carjacking a new type of crime distinct from normal aggravated robbery or auto theft.

Republicans are convinced that some judges are being too on convicted felons, so the bill includes a provision that would bar judges from sentencing a person to something less than the minimum presumptive sentence.

Another section of the bill would require prosecutors to document the cases they don't prosecute after police say there's probable cause to believe the suspect is guilty.  Prosecutor would be required to explain in writing the cases they passed over and submit those reports to the State.

The GOP lawmakers are also annoyed at Democratic county attorneys in the state's two most populous counties. They contend that Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman isn't charging violent teens to the highest extent, a claim he has disputed in hearings.

 

Limmer and other Republicans have complained about Ramsey County Attorney Jon Choi's decision not to bring felony charges in cases arising from traffic stops for minor equipment violations.

"We need to put them on record when they dismiss charges, have them make a report to Sentence Guidelines Commission and their name will also be counted."

Members of the committee spent seven hours discussing and debating proposed amendments to Limmer's omnibus bill, a process known in the legislature as "marking up" a bill before the committee votes on it.

One amendment that made it into the bill would expand the list of persons protected from doxing, the practice of disclosing someone's home address or other personal information on social media. Current state law makes it illegal to dox a law enforcement officer. The amendment, offered by Cottage Grove Sen. Karla Bigham, would expand that list to include lawmakers and other public officials.

House Democrats are taking a broader approach to crime prevention, one that includes grants to nonprofit groups that can work on crime prevention and build trust between police and the communities they serve.

Unlike the House version, the Senate version doesn't include grants to nonprofits. Limmer said those groups are untested and lack financial accountability.

He referenced an article by the Minnesota Reformer that said Citizens United Against Police Brutality was unable to get financial records from the community-based violence interrupter groups working with the City of Minneapolis.

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