Zellers prepares bill to close sex offender notification gapby Rupa Shenoy, Minnesota Public Radio,
Tim Pugmire, Minnesota Public Radio
ST. PAUL, Minn — Gov. Mark Dayton has agreed to cooperate with state Republicans to pass a bill to require community notification when a sex offender moves into a halfway house. House Speaker Kurt Zellers says the bill up for a floor vote Monday afternoon would require neighborhood notification for these instances.
At a recent hearing, Republicans were informed by officials with the sex offender program that Minnesota state law does not require community notification in instances of sex offenders released from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program to a halfway house.
Zellers says the gap in the law was revealed during a committee hearing to learn more from about the provisional discharge of Clarence Opheim, who for nearly 20 years has been indefinitely civilly committed to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program.
A panel of three Ramsey County judges recently ruled to release Opheim, 64, to a secure halfway house. He will be transferred within the next few weeks.
Opheim has confessed to 100 criminal sexual acts committed against dozens of boys as young as 8. Records show he would gain the trust of children in his northeast Minneapolis neighborhood by offering them candy and soda.
Opheim completed a prison sentence for sexually assaulting a boy, but judges found him too dangerous to release and civilly committed him to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, where he has undergone voluntary treatment for nearly two decades.
An evaluation by Department of Human Services staff a year ago found Opheim to be still in the high-risk range to commit a serious sex offense again.
"Whether it's a halfway house or just into the general population, a sex offender of this level with these offenses being in your community, absolutely, citizens should know," Zellers said. "That's one of our first responsibilities as legislators, is public safety."
Zellers and Majority Leader Matt Dean seek to pass an emergency bill to change state statutes and require local law enforcement to notify the community of a sex offender's arrival in those instances.
Zellers and Dean wrote the governor seeking his support to change the law. Dayton responded that he will support the legislation.
The emergency bill needs the support of two-thirds of the House to pass. DFL Minority Leader Paul Thissen said House Democrats will support the measure.
Rupa Shenoy is a general assignment reporter for MPR News.