The Minnesota House signed off Tuesday on a bill that provides $2.1 billion in public safety funding, lowers the threshold for enhanced drunken driving penalties and increases fines for texting and driving.
The omnibus Public Safety Finance bill passed the House, 115-19. The bill funds dozens of public safety departments over the next budget cycle, including the Department of Corrections, the courts, much of the Department of Public Safety and Peace Officer Standards and Training Board, among others.
Its dozens of measures also include lowering the threshold for advanced drunken driving penalties from a blood alcohol level of .20 to .16. The change will place Minnesota's criminal penalties in line with the civil penalties for drunken driving. Another would make legal the necessity defense, legislation that stems from the case of Jennifer Axelberg, who contended she had no choice but to drive legally drunk to escape her husband during a domestic dispute. Some of the proposals are the results of recommendations by the state's DWI Task Force.
The bill includes enhanced penalties for texting or using other electronic devices while driving. Drivers caught on a second or any subsequent violation would be fined an additional $150 on top of the financial penalties set by the state's Judicial Council. Despite impassioned arguments by Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, the House rejected his proposed amendment to pay a $350 fine for a second texting while driving offense and $500 for a third.
Other highlights of the bill include:
• Combating terror: Directing the Department of Public Safety to collaborate with local law enforcement to combat the recruitment of Minnesotans to terrorist groups like ISIL.
• Safe driving: Enhancing criminal vehicular homicide penalties for drivers with certain prior convictions, and enhancing penalties for reckless driving causing great bodily harm or death.
• Sex trafficking: A measure to list sex trafficking as a violent crime, rendering it eligible for more enhanced criminal penalties.
• Synthetic drugs: The bill expands the definition of controlled substances to include new chemical compounds used in the manufacture of synthetic drugs. This is a move frequently needed to catch up with synthetic drugmakers, who tweak the compounds to avoid prosecution.