Despite the extreme weather, the Legislature remained open and held hearings all week. Bills were scheduled and started moving through committees in both the House and Senate. Legislators were busy meeting with stakeholders and constituents regarding legislation.
Criminal Sexual Assault
The House and Senate heard proposals that would reform criminal sexual assault statutes. The week started with former Attorney General Lori Swanson testifying before the Senate Judiciary committee to present recommendations from the Attorney General’s Working Group on Sexual Assault. The working group’s formation was prompted by the Star Tribune’s investigative reporting series, Denied Justice, which alleged severe statewide shortcomings in investigatory and prosecutorial practices in cases of sexual assault.
The working group provided a total of 25 recommendations to the legislature, law enforcement agencies, county attorneys and the Minnesota POST Board. The leading recommendation for the legislature would require law enforcement agencies to adopt a model policy regarding the handling of sexual assault investigations. The Minnesota Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) Board recently approved a model Sexual Assault Investigation Policy. Agencies are not currently required to adopt the policy, but most agencies do have a policy currently.
Another noteworthy recommendation was to require the BCA to offer trauma-informed investigation training to officers who regularly investigate cases of sexual assault and appropriate the necessary funds for those trainings. In response, concerns were raised by legislators around local governments’ share of funding responsibilities and the delivery of these trainings to officers in small agencies with limited resources.
The working group’s remaining recommendations included improving the process of reporting sexual assaults, funding innovation grants, eliminating the voluntary relationship defense and authorizing pre-conviction DNA collection. A full report of the working group’s recommendations can be found here.
The House of Representatives Public Safety committee heard and passed multiple bills including HF 327 and HF 418. Both bills are authored by Rep. Kelly Moller (DFL-Shoreview). HF 327 would require local agencies to establish and enforce a policy on investigating sexual assault cases. The bill gives POST the authority to ensure local agencies comply. HF 418 would create a Criminal Sexual Conduct Statutory Reform Working Group that would be made up of various stakeholders and require a report be made with specific recommendations and changes to the legislature. The Senate is expected to debate these bills in coming weeks.
Representative Mike Freiberg (DFL-Golden Valley) and Senator Melisa Franzen (DFL-Edina) introduced bills in the House and Senate this week to legalize recreational use of cannabis for adults over the age of 21. The lawmakers said that HF 420 and SF 619 would allow Minnesota to lead on regulating marijuana to protect Minnesotans, promote public health and keep it out of the hands of minors.
The current effective date is January 2022, which the authors said gives legislators ample time to deliberate and craft responsible regulatory policies. While the lawmakers were optimistic about the future of the legislation’s passage, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R – Nisswa) has said marijuana legalization isn’t a priority.
Paid Family Leave
House Democrats made a proposal to provide paid family leave to Minnesotans a top priority. It was included as one of the first ten bill introductions at the start of session. The first hearing on this proposal took place Wednesday before the House Labor Committee. The bill, HF5, authored by Representative Laurie Halverson (DFL-Eagan), would provide paid family leave for Minnesotans who need to take time away from work for a family or medical issue. Rep. Halverson testified that the bill would “provide for 12 weeks of medical leave with partial wage replacement and, or 12 weeks of family leave to bond with a new baby, care for a sick loved one, through an insurance program that’s modeled on Minnesota’s unemployment insurance.”
The leave would be funded by premiums based upon a percentage of worker compensation and be made up of contributions from both employees and employers. The bill is expected to make seven committee stops in the Minnesota House. No amendments were offered during the first hearing, but the committee did receive testimony on the bill. Proponents of the bill were various unions, faith groups, and community activists who all testified in favor of the paid leave they don’t currently receive. Opponents including business groups, cities and counties, all raised concerns regarding unintended consequences to small businesses, startup costs of the program, lack of conformity with federal law and who would pay.
The Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) is currently working on creating an analysis to determine the total time the proposal would take to implement and expressed concern with the expedited process outlined in the bill. Minnesota IT Services (MNIT) will be the state agency to build the software system. Many legislators raised concerns regarding a lack of confidence in MNIT’s ability to timely implement the program based on their involvement with the MNLARS issues.
The bill was passed on a party line vote and referred to the House Commerce Committee. There is currently no Senate companion to the bill.
The American Society of Civil Engineers - Infrastructure Report Card
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) presented their first ever Minnesota Infrastructure Report Card to the House Transportation Committee. In 2018, Minnesota received a cumulative GPA of C, higher than the most recent national cumulative GPA of D+. Specifically, the ASCE reported that for 2018, Minnesota earned a D+ for roadways, a C for bridges, and a C- for transit.
Minnesota’s D+ grade for roads indicates an immediate need. To help raise the low grade, the ASCE recommended implementing asset management programs among local agencies and increasing the fuel tax to close the existing transportation funding gap. They also indicated the importance of dedicating sustainable funding to all sources of transportation as the overall lifetime maintenance needs of roads, bridges, and transit are too great to be met with a one-time spending.