Legislation to improve how authorities investigate and prosecute rape cases in Minnesota appeared to be in jeopardy Monday as time ran out to strike a deal before a midnight adjournment deadline.
A proposal to create a working group that would examine the state's criminal sexual conduct statutes was not included in the DFL-controlled House's policy offer to a conference committee on public safety spending, leaving the measure in doubt. Public safety legislation in the GOP-led Senate also made no provision for a working group or task force.
The working group was a top priority of advocates for sex assault survivors following a Star Tribune investigative series into widespread failings among Minnesota law enforcement.
Other priorities, such as a repeal of the state's decades-old "marital rape" defense, passed earlier this year. But even bipartisan support has not helped advance some policy measures in the scramble of the session's final hours.
"They really have this opportunity to finish strong and in a bipartisan way on this subject — so I am hopeful that they will take that opportunity," said Lindsay Brice, law and policy director for the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault. "Survivors will lose out if they don't."
Brice has been a proponent of a statutory reform task force to bring together law enforcement and victim advocates to identify changes needed in the state's criminal sexual conduct laws, especially those that make it difficult to prosecute cases.
But the proposal did not receive a hearing in the state Senate this session, and Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, chair of the Senate's judiciary committee, expressed skepticism of the task force concept.
Unlike the repeal of the antiquated marital rape exception, which Gov. Tim Walz signed into law earlier this month, some sex assault policy reforms may become casualties of lingering political differences over a public safety spending bill.
On Sunday, the Minnesota Senate unanimously passed a bill sponsored by Limmer that contained multiple reforms, including requiring law enforcement agencies to adopt written policies for handling sex assault cases. It also contained a provision that allows victims to report crimes to any law enforcement agency regardless of jurisdiction.
But the 66-0 vote belied a deeper conflict over how to advance broader budget legislation. Limmer has long preferred to craft spending bills focused on allocating money, while the DFL-controlled House produced a larger public safety bill rich in new policy changes — including a sexual assault task force.
Limmer described his bill as the best shot at getting those policy changes across the finish line and suggested that resistance by House Democrats was a "ploy" to force the Senate to accept a more sweeping policy bill. Limmer insisted that many of the House proposals could instead be taken up next session.
"All they have to do is bring it up on the floor and vote for a strong bipartisan bill that addresses sexual assault," Limmer said.
The Minnesota House and Senate passed an opioid bill that moved out of conference committee, but it was unclear whether Limmer's sex assault bill would be taken up.
Though the DFL's leading member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, backed the substance of Limmer's bill, he prefaced Sunday's floor vote with a warning not to let other policy provisions in committee go ignored. He also pointed out that some of the provisions in the House's bill — including the task force proposal — went unheard in Limmer's committee this year.
"At least let's get a response other than 'no' to the other body's policy offers," Latz said. "I for one am not prepared to play chicken with these provisions ... because if we play chicken and we lose, survivors of sexual assault lose as well."