Reporting Bill Hudson
ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — After a Ramsey County judicial panel gave the green light for Clarence Opheim’s release into a neighborhood halfway house, state lawmakers’ phone lines lit up.
There was public outrage over a loophole in state law.
Current state law doesn’t require community notification when a convicted sexual psychopath, like Opheim, is moved from a secure treatment program and into a halfway house.
“That’s exactly the reason for the legislation and for us taking it up under these unusual circumstances,” says House Majority Leader, Rep. Matt Dean.
The House was called into emergency session on Monday to consider House File 2394 legislation that aims to close the notification loophole.
Opheim admitted to over 100 sex acts with children decades ago, many from his former northeast Minneapolis neighborhood. He was sent to Moose Lake and, later, the sex offender’s treatment program at the St. Peter Security Hospital. For the past 19 years, Opheim has been a client in that program and was recently deemed capable of release to a halfway house where he will continue to be supervised.
Completion of treatment means his provisional release to a halfway house can take place in the coming days.
“We know that could be very soon, so that’s why we’re acting today with some urgency to get this done,” Dean said.
That urgency to act is why the House met in emergency session. House Speaker Rep. Kurt Zellers presided over motions to suspend the rules and on voice votes, call for the second and third reading of the bill.
With support from both sides of the aisle the measure was quickly debated and voted upon.
House Minority Leader, Rep. Debra Hilstrom, said she thought it was appropriate to act with urgency on this bill.
“I think folks want to make sure the public is notified,” she said.
With little debate, the bill passed by an overwhelming vote of 127 to 1. The only dissenting vote was from Rep. Bill Hilty (D- Finlayson). Hilty said afterward that he is concerned with the need to act without giving the bill proper committee hearings. Hilty, who represents constituents where the Moose Lake State Treatment facility is located, fears a constitutional challenge.
“Is it legal to treat a civilly committed client the same as an offender being released from a penal institution?” Hilty said.
That’s a question the Senate will likely debate when the companion bill, S.F. 1994, is heard by committee on Tuesday.