The dispute over how long Minnesota law enforcement should be able to store data collected by automated license plate readers took a tense turn Tuesday, when a  measure that appeared bound for the Senate floor must now clear another committee hurdle.

The devices, commonly known as LPRs, are small cameras mounted in squad cars or in fixed mounts that scan license plates and store information on where and when a vehicle was located when the scan was taken. Revelations about the devices in 2012 raised calls by privacy and civil liberties advocates — as well as ordinary citizens — on how police classify and retain the data.

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.

This session, a 90-day retention bill sponsored by Sen Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee, which he chairs, over protests from Sen. Branden Petersen, R-Andover, who authored a competing bill arguing for zero retention. While the committee opted not to move forward with Petersen's bill, Latz’s bill headed to the Senate floor for a vote.

But Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, who co-authored Petersen’s zero-retention bill, asked Latz to refer the bill to the Transportation and Public Safety Committee, which Dibble chairs. Latz declined, saying his bill does not fall under that committee's jurisdiction. 

Petersen and Dibble objected, and the three sat side-by-side before the Senate Rules Committee Tuesday afternoon to figure out just where it should go next. It's the second time in as many days that the differences of opinion between them has been public.

“First and foremost, it’s a custom of the Senate to honor the reasonable requests of (Chairman Dibble),” Petersen told the Rules Committee. “I don’t think anybody would claim that it is neither a public safety or transportation issue.”

Dibble argued that Latz’s bill includes data managed by Driver and Vehicle Services, which falls under the auspices of the Transportation Committee. Latz countered that the language pertains to the Data Practices Act, which is solely under Judiciary Committee authority. 

Pointing at other potential motives, Latz mentioned the “substantial differences” in retention periods between he and Dibble’s bill, adding that an identical 90-day retention bill passed out of the Judiciary Committee last year and headed straight to the Senate floor without protest.

“The only time any interest in hearing this bill in front of the Transportation Public Safety Committee appears to have arisen  this year when there was apparently a change of mind by Sen. Dibble about the 90-day retention period.” Latz said. “I respect his right to change his position on that, it happens, but that seems to be (behind) the request for referral.”

Dibble bristled, saying “I think it is inappropriate for Sen. Latz to suggest any motive on my part. He has no idea why I requested this other than the statements I’ve made in public already.”

Dibble  maintained that his intentions in hearing the bill have nothing to do with the retention period, and that while he doesn’t intend to offer an amendment to change it, he wouldn’t stop one from being offered.

The Rules Committee differed on whether Dibble’s Committee should have the right to hear the bill.

Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, said it’s important to be mindful of “jurisdiction creep” and to be mindful of the authority committees hold, as well as the potential for backlog.

Sen. Michelle Fischbach, R-Paynesville, sided with sending the bill to Dibble, saying “there are lots of reasons bills go to committees.”

“It’s unfortunate that it came to this point,” she said. “When a chair requests something, we should at least honor it."

On a split voice vote, the bill went to Dibble’s committee. Afterward, Latz said he was “disappointed and frustrated” but respects the process. He said he has “no doubt" an amendment will be made to change the LPR retention-length from 90 days to zero, and if it succeeds, he will ask that the bill be referred back to his committee.

After the hearing, a pleased Petersen stopped short of saying whether he planned to offer that amendment.

“I’m sure we’ll find a willing member,” he said.

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