To leaders and members of the Minnesota Legislature:
In your short 2014 session, your highest priority must be to do your constitutional duty to reform our sex offender commitment law. To achieve this, you should use the comprehensive report of the task force chaired by former Minnesota Chief Justice Eric Magnuson.
You let the 2013 session end without demonstrating the political courage to arrive at a bipartisan solution to this obvious legislative problem. Now you are about to forfeit your duty to the federal judiciary. Do not do this.
Who am I to say this? I spent several years drafting versions of reform of the first sex offender law (signed in 1939 by Gov. Harold Stassen). In 1992, I used a 1990 law of the state of Washington as a model. I added “due process” provisions to my draft. Our finished draft was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court when a parallel bill enacted in Kansas was upheld. I was helped by DFL Rep. Wes Skoglund as our Judiciary Committee chair.
Since then, this law has produced surprising results that have led to the attack in a lawsuit now pending before U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank.
The 1992 authors did not foresee the political dilemmas that would face elected officials — namely, county attorneys, governors and judges — in making their decisions on whether to commit and whether to release a committed offender when recommended after years of “treatment.” This is why the number of those held under commitment has zoomed from 70 to 700 since 1993 while only one offender has been released under surveillance.
Legislators, do your duty! Correcting problems with our state laws is your responsibility. You swore to do this under our state Constitution. Letting this loaded legal problem go to a federal judge is wrong. The task force report to the commissioner of human services has addressed several reforms needed with our sex offender commitment law; it made thoroughly considered recommendations. I have read them and have found no problems. You should get the Senate and House bills drafted, heard and passed along to Gov. Mark Dayton to sign. He should have his staff participate in this.
Dayton also should add funding in his bonding bill for state-run transition housing for qualified sex offenders who have been released. Such housing would be like the two private sex offender housing units that are now successful in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
This is a matter of urgency. Do your constitutional duty in bipartisan accord, as we did in 1992. Get it done before Judge Frank has to do your job.
Dave Bishop, of Rochester, was a Republican member of the Minnesota House from 1983 to 2002.