The head of a state Senate committee said Monday that he wants a bipartisan approach to addressing widespread failures in how sexual assault cases are investigated and prosecuted in Minnesota as well as how victims are treated.

"We in the Legislature are not turning a blind eye to these needs," said Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove. "I want to put a spotlight on this."

Limmer made the comments after the Judiciary and Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee heard testimony from former Attorney General Lori Swanson, who presented the findings. Swanson formed a task force last year in the wake of a Star Tribune series that found rape cases were often mishandled by police and prosecutors. Of the rare cases that did lead to conviction, judges often gave out what victims felt were lenient sentences.

Swanson's task force agreed with the Star Tribune's findings, then issued a series of 25 recommendations to address those shortcomings, including 11 that would need to be acted on by the Legislature.

Among those recommendations: Require that all agencies across the state adopt policies on how to investigate sexual assaults; require the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to provide specialized training in handling the cases; and require agencies to collect and report data on the cases to the BCA.

"Minnesota can and should be a national leader in addressing sexual assaults, but it's not happening right now," Swanson testified Monday to the Senate committee. "This body can help us get there."

None of the senators on the committee challenged Swanson's findings or recommendations.

After the Star Tribune published its first story in July, Limmer said at the time he would hold public hearings to address the issues.

On Tuesday, his committee will hear a response to the task force report from stakeholders on any potential sexual assault reforms, including the head of the Minnesota Peace Officers Standards and Training (POST) Board, the head of the Minnesota County Attorneys Association and representatives from the Minnesota sheriffs' and police associations.

Limmer said he wanted to hear that testimony before deciding what steps to take next.

"I think the Legislature together should have a series of common solutions or common recommendations," he said.

Any bill to reform how sexual assaults are handled would need to go through Limmer's committee.

Last week, Minnesota lawmakers introduced the first set of bills that would reform how police, prosecutors and judges handle the cases. The House Public Safety Committee will hold hearings on Wednesday and Thursday to address some of those proposals, including making changes in Minnesota criminal sexual conduct statutes that would make it easier to prosecute the crimes.

Brandon Stahl • 612-673-4626