Penalties for people who impersonate police officers, service members and military veterans will be tougher in Minnesota starting Tuesday, when those changes and a slate of other measures passed by the Legislature this year become law.
The $2 billion public safety spending bill approved this spring included a number of policy measures, including those aimed at people who try to fraudulently obtain veterans' benefits or pretend to be law enforcement officers to get into buildings that are off-limits to the public. Others target those who damage police vehicles or try to board a school bus without the driver's permission.
Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, who sponsored the public safety budget bill in the state Senate, said many of the new laws taking effect Aug. 1 were prompted by an uptick in reports from law enforcement agencies. He said more people seem to be trying to pass themselves off as military members or veterans to get hired for jobs or to earn benefits. But state law previously only made it a crime to impersonate a military officer — not an enlisted service member or a veteran.
"After hearing the stories, we began to realize that it would most likely prevent those things from happening if we escalated the criminal penalty," Limmer said.
Now, someone who wrongfully gets money, property or other benefits by claiming any military affiliation could be convicted of a gross misdemeanor.
State laws related to people who impersonate police officers were also broadened to make more specific actions a misdemeanor. People who pretend to be police officers to get into a building, direct other people to do something or drive a vehicle marked to look like an official law enforcement vehicle can now be charged with a crime. For people convicted of a similar offense within five years, the charge can be raised to a felony.
Under another new law, people who try to get on a bus with students and are rebuffed by the driver can be charged with a misdemeanor.
Limmer said the goal is to strengthen security measures to match those required in school buildings. "You need to be able to show you are the proper person to pick up that child," he said.
A separate change in state law will increase fines for people who fail to stop for a stopped school bus. Minimum fines will jump from $300 to $500 for people who don't stop when the bus is stopped with its lights flashing or for those who pass a stopped bus on the right.
Other new laws include one that will make it easier for some vehicle owners to get their car back if it is taken by the court following a drunken-driving arrest. In the past, vehicle owners had little recourse if someone else was arrested while driving drunk in their car. Now, they can petition the court to try to get their vehicle back — if they can prove that they didn't know the car was being used or that they tried to stop the driver from using it.
Meanwhile, another new law will prompt an expanded effort to end the spread of HIV/AIDS in Minnesota. Officials will develop a new statewide plan by February 2018 to reduce the number of diagnoses by 74 percent and to ensure that at least 90 percent of people with HIV know they have the disease and are receiving treatment.
Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, was one of the sponsors of the bill. He said a broader coordination of efforts will help the state save money and make a real impact in Minnesota, where about 300 new HIV infections are found each year.
"Bringing those strategies together means we are now in an era where we can literally bring new transmissions of HIV/AIDS down to zero," Dibble said.
And across the state, dental hygienists will be able to perform some procedures, such as taking X-rays and polishing crowns, outside of dental clinics where a dentist also sees patients. Hygienists must still work in conjunction with a dentist, but supporters of the change say the looser restrictions will allow more people to receive dental care in places like schools and long-term care facilities.