The House’s first look at legislation regulating Automated License Plate reader data began innocuously enough Tuesday, but tempers flared after a surprise amendment would have dramatically altered a measure backed by law enforcement.

For the third consecutive session, lawmakers have sparred over whether LPR “hits” on innocent people should be deleted immediately—what privacy advocates want, or kept for 90 days-- what law enforcement wants.

Despite competing bills in the Senate, a 90-day retention bil survived last week, after a proposed amendment to strip  data retention to zero days was narrowly voted down.

The scene was familiar Tuesday, as the House Civil Law Committee heard dueling bills, the first of them a zero-retention measure from committee chair Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover. Scott’s bill would require that any data gleaned from license plate readers must be automatically deleted unless the vehicle has been stolen, there is a warrant fort the owner’s arrest, they have a suspended or revoked license or it’s considered investigative data.

After little debate, the committee voted 9-4 to refer Scott’s bill to the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy committee for further discussion. Expectations were the same for a competing bill from Public Safety Committee Chair Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, which would allow storage for up to 90 days. A compromise between the Scott and Cornish bills is expected.

However, when Cornish presented his bill, Scott proposed an amendment that would reduce data retention from 90 days to one week with exceptions for active investigations. The amendment also required a public log of LPR use and a quarterly audit of LPR data. The amendment would also prohibit LPR use at public events subject to free speech protections, such as protests.

Cornish expressed alarm at the amendment, saying it “basically neuters and eviscerates the whole bill.” and could jeopardize compromise and prevent any legislation from making it to the House floor for debate.

“To law enforcement’s credit, they want to continue working on a solution,” Cornish said. “…If this amendment is added, I see this as probably an end to the reconciliation of this bill. We were really serious about coming to a resolution here and to negotiate an agreement.”

Rep. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park, questioned the need for expensive quarterly audits. Scott responded that they’re necessary in light of data breaches in recent years.

“You are aware that in the past, law enforcement has abused the law by looking at innocent people’s data, and mine is included in that,” Scott said. “Maybe if they were aware, it wouldn’t have gone for so long. Quarterly may be tough and maybe we’ll land somewhere in between, but once every three years is not adequate.”

An exasperated Schoen questioned the restrictiveness of her amendment.

“If you don’t want license plate readers, then introduce the bill to ban license plate readers. he said.

Frustrated with the inability to reach compromise for the third year in a row, Schoen suggested, “Let’s vote on it and kill it here. Let’s call it good.”

Scott said her intent with the amendment is “to put some really tight guardrails on the use of innocent people’s information,” but offered to withdraw her amendment and allow Cornish’s zero-day retention bill to pass, with the promise that the two sides could continue negotiating. Cornish agreed.

When Scott withdrew her amendment, an angry Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, re-offered it with the intent of voting it down. Rep. John Lesch protested Hilstrom’s move, saying “In order to get a hash mark in your column, you want to jeopardize the negotiation process.”

 “Look, we have two bills on the same issue and it’s time that this committee take a stand on where we’re going to end up,” Hilstrom countered. “I think it’s a bad amendment and I don’t think good faith negotiations have necessarily been going on, and therefore I’m re-offering it. If people don’t want to vote on it, they can choose to take a pass.”

Scott refused to take a vote, abruptly ending the meeting. Cornish's bill was also left in limbo without a vote.

Afterward, Hilstrom said that there was no reason for Scott to attempt to hijack Cornish’s bill with such a broad-based amendment when she proposed legislation of her own.

“I don’t think it’s helpful when you start playing games with an issue that’s very, very serious,” she said. “We need to have a bill. We need to have a law at the end of the day, and when you have proposals that start to derail the ability to have a statute, I think that’s going the wrong direction for Minnesotans.”

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