ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A proposal to put the most dangerous sex offenders away for open-ended prison terms cleared a House panel Tuesday as lawmakers search for new ways to deal with the soaring cost of confining sexual predators.

The bill from Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, won a unanimous voice vote by the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Committee. Cornish, who heads the panel, said his plan would separate sexual predators from less risky sex criminals and keep the predators in prison indefinitely instead of sending them to a secure treatment program at three times the cost.

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“We can’t afford to do what we’re doing,” Cornish told the panel.

Minnesota scrapped indeterminate sentencing decades ago in favor of sentencing guidelines based on the seriousness of the crime and the offender’s criminal history.

The bill would resurrect open-ended sentences for sexual predators, if a jury found they lacked control over their sexual impulses and posed a danger to others. They would have to serve at least twice the recommended sentence for their crime and then could get out only if the corrections commissioner found they were no longer a threat to the public.

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Releases of predatory sex offenders would be subject to conditions set by the corrections commissioner. Violations could send them back to prison.

The vote came a few days after lawmakers received a critical legislative auditor’s report about the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, which treats sex offenders after prison at a per-person cost of $120,000 a year. Lawmakers are looking for less expensive ways to handle dangerous sex offenders without jeopardizing the public.

Cornish’s bill now heads to the House Judiciary Committee.

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