Counterpoint: Minnesota's sex offender issue hasn't been ignored

  • Article by: TONY CORNISH
  • Updated: February 12, 2014 - 6:09 PM

The Legislature had a fix — my fix — before it. It didn’t involve letting these people into communities.

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Recently, former state Rep. Dave Bishop from Rochester wrote a commentary chiding current legislators for not having the courage to do anything to fix Minnesota’s sex offender problem (“Legislature’s Job One: Fix the sex offender law,” Feb. 3). The former representative first bragged about the law he wrote, then told us to fix the problem he created by drafting it.

I, in fact, had the fix several years ago. My bill would have changed how these people are screened and sentenced, taking politics and fear out of the equation. I created a new, very serious felony, with criteria to convict someone as a “sexual predatory offender.” If convicted under this new definition, the person would go to prison for a mandatory 60 years and would receive their treatment in prison at one-third of the cost of the current Minnesota Sex Offender Program and then be released.

After 60 years, there would be little chance of such a person reoffending. I even had an independent panel of retired judges to make the determination of who would fit the definition of a “sexual predatory offender.” This would have provided statewide consistency instead of allowing each county to go its own way.

This bill received hearings at the Legislature; no one said it was a bad idea. The Department of Corrections testified that it was capable of carrying out the task and that it has been treating sex offenders in its prisons for years. In fact, the different agencies involved all said that the proposal had merit and deserved a close look. The bill actually made it through two committees with bipartisan support and was ready for a vote. Sadly, funding and time prevented its passage, which should not have been the case.

As for the current population of the Minnesota Sex Offender Program? Dave Bishop and others are wrong if they think we should release these sex offenders into the community in special housing. I’m fine with leaving them right where they are. I’ll stick with the advice of the current attorney general, who said release would be a bad idea with the last person for whom it was considered. I also agreed with her when she said she believed the Sex Offender Program does meet constitutional muster. If federal Judge Donovan Frank wants to release offenders, fine. But if he does, I think the decision should be appealed by the attorney general.

Those handling the Sex Offender Program have told me that these people cannot be “cured,” only managed. Not one county or city government was interested in housing them. This means we would have to pass a law that would prohibit cities and counties from refusing to accept housing. I will not do that.

I’ll not put my signature to the release of someone who has been defined as a “high risk to reoffend” and whose record, if read on the House floor, would make you cringe. I will not lose a minute of sleep knowing these people are locked up. I would lose sleep if I knew there was a chance they would be released under “less restrictive means.”

Please, former Rep. Bishop, don’t accuse me of not having courage. I was a peace officer for 36 years. I have chased, captured, been injured by and hauled sex offenders to prison. Courage isn’t the problem. Releasing them is.

 

Tony Cornish, R-Good Thunder, is a member of the Minnesota House.

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