ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Minnesota legislative leaders sniped at each other Friday for a lack of progress in fixing the state’s sex offender treatment program despite a federal judge’s urging for fast action to correct it.
Lawmakers acknowledged that no talks on the subject have occurred in about a month.
“We’ve seen nothing from House Republicans,” said House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis.
Democrats were “elected to lead,” and they haven’t offered any more amenable proposals, countered Minority House Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown.
The lack of urgency comes despite what U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank deemed critical issues in his February ruling.
Frank warned that the court could rule the program unconstitutional if a panel of experts he appointed to evaluate it finds evidence of no treatment for patients, no way for patients to complete the program and “prison-like conditions.” A lawsuit brought by patients argued that they live like prisoners even though they have finished their prison terms.
If the experts discover egregious flaws, the courts could take control of the program from the state. Many worry that a consequence would be the release of many sex offenders at once. Minnesota has about 700 patients in the program, the highest number of civilly committed sex offenders per capita among 20 states with such programs, and only two have been released during the program’s two decades of existence.
“I don’t think we’re getting to that point,” Daudt said. He said he believes the program is constitutional.
Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said the program has enough problems that fixing them in a single session is unlikely. He criticized Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton for not leading on the issue.
In a conference call with reporters Thursday, Dayton said he didn’t think the program would be addressed in the current session. He said it was more likely next year. The governor blamed House Republicans, whom he said “refused to be involved in any aspect of a resolution.”
For something as fundamental as public safety, Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said bipartisan support was necessary for any bill.
“We need Minnesotans to be confident in our decision,” she said. “We need Democrats and Republicans to work together.”
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