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Session 2004

Session 2004: Public Safety

When lawmakers began the 2004 legislative session, the abduction of Dru Sjodin by a convicted sex offender was fresh in their minds. Toughening sex offender laws was among the few issues that all sides - House, Senate and Gov. Tim Pawlenty - agreed was a top priority. But like nearly every other major issue, agreement on details eluded them. The Senate would have reserved life sentences for so-called sexual predators, those convicted of repeat crimes. The House wanted mandatory life sentence for most first-degree sexual assaults, even for first offenses. Both would have ratcheted up penalties for other felony sex crimes.

The Minnesota Senate Thursday voted to lower the state's drunk driving limit. Minnesota is one of just three states in the country that does not have a drunk driving standard of .08 blood-alcohol content. The Legislature has debated the lower limit for years, and many observers think this year, it will finally become law. (02/12/2004)
A judge on Monday dismissed a challenge to Gov. Pawlenty's executive order preventing anyone from being released from Minnesota's sex offender treatment program unless through a court order. Pawlenty issued his order last July, after a newspaper report said the state was considering releasing some of the 200 offenders in the state's two secure psychiatric hospitals. Meanwhile, Minnesota lawmakers began debating longer prison sentences for sex offenders. (02/09/2004)
A new poll shows Minnesotans evenly divided over Gov. Tim Pawlenty's plan to re-introduce the state death penalty. But the same poll also shows Minnesotans are fairly unified in their desire to crack down on the state's sexual offenders. (02/04/2004)
Gov. Tim Pawlenty is asking legislators to let Minnesota voters decide whether the state should re-introduce capital punishment in certain murder cases. Pawlenty first floated the idea after a repeat Minnesota sex offender was connected to the disappearance of college student Dru Sjodin. Pawlenty says, with proper safeguards, the death penalty would provide an ultimate punishment for the state's worst offenders. Opponents say the governor is moving the state in the wrong direction. (01/27/2004)
A new report prepared for the Legislature says that in 2002 there were more people put behind bars for drug crimes, than for violent crimes or property crimes. Drug offenders now make up nearly a quarter of the state's prison population. ( 01/22/2004)
The state's corrections commissioner faced a barrage of questions over the state's program for dealing with sex offenders at a Senate hearing Monday. The program has come under scrutiny after a level 3 sex offender living in northeastern Minnesota was arrested in the case of a missing college student. Senate DFLers grilled Corrections Commissioner Joan Fabian about the process for seeking civil commitments of sex offenders, but they say they aren't satisfied with her answers. (01/13/2004)
More prison beds, longer sentences for sex offenders and closer monitoring of those who are released are key components of a proposal outlined Thursday by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. (01/08/2004)
Gov. Tim Pawlenty said Thursday that he is exploring ways to discipline a state doctor and others who declined to seek civil confinement of a convicted sex offender now suspected of abducting North Dakota student Dru Sjodin. (12/18/2003)
Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove says more sex offenders should be sent to prison for life without parole. Life without parole is currently reserved for a handful of the worst murder cases. Zeller's plan calls for certain offenders who use weapons in sex crimes, or those who target children and vulnerable adults, to spend the rest of their lives in prison. ( 12/18/2003)
Next month, Gov. Tim Pawlenty is to decide whether to support the State Corrections Department in its call for new funds to expand Minnesota's prisons. Corrections officials say the state's prisons are at 99 percent capacity, and won't be able to handle a rising inmate population. Deputy Corrections Commissioner Dennis Benson told <i>All Things Considered</i> host David Molpus, &quot;our backs are against the wall, with only 85 vacant beds in the entire statewide system.&quot; Molpus recently visited the Stillwater state prison with Benson to see how officials are dealing with the crowded conditions. (12/17/2003)
Minnesota House Republicans say they will propose a bill in the upcoming legislative session that would create lifetime prison sentences for violent and dangerous sex offenders. They don't have the necessary votes to move forward with Gov. Pawlenty's proposal to implement the death penalty for violent sex offenders, but they are proposing to lock up those criminals for life without parole. (12/16/2003)
Gov. Pawlenty's call for returning the death penalty to Minnesota is encountering stiff criticism from some who say the governor is trading on the publicity surrounding the disappearance last month of 22-year-old Dru Sjodin. (12/04/2003)
An assistant Hennepin County public defender on Wednesday asked the Minnesota Supreme Court to strike down as unconstitutional a law that charges the poor from $50 to $200 for public defender services. The Legislature passed the law last year to raise an estimated $7 million to partially fund the state's public defender system. The system is struggling under state budget cuts and soaring caseloads. (12/03/2003)
The arrest of a Minnesota sex offender in the abduction of a North Dakota college student led Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to call Tuesday for the death penalty in his state. (12/02/2003)