Public safety, child care bills advance at State Capitol

By T.W. Budig, ECM Capitol Reporter

The House on Monday, Feb. 20 rushed through a sex offender bill dealing with community notification — it passed the body with a single dissenting vote.

The legislation is a response to the pending provisional release of sex offender Clarence Opheim to a metro area halfway house.

Under current law, such a placement does not require community notification.

But the bill would change that.

Rep. Kathy Lohmer, R-Lake Elmo, successfully motioned to suspend House rules to rush through the legislation. Lohmer warned the placement of Opheim into the halfway house was imminent.

But Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, warned against rashness in dealing with the situation.

Liebling noted that Opheim’s release from the state sex offender program to the halfway house had been approved by a three-judge panel. Further, Liebling said state officials told her the move would not happen until March 12.

There was no reason to rush legislation through and the bill could follow the normal route, Liebling explained.

“I have absolutely no problem with that,” she said of discussing the issues surrounding the case.

People in the sex offender program are being held on the basis of being provided with treatment, Liebling explained. Without the treatment being provided, the state had no constitutional right to hold the offenders as they are not serving jail sentences.

“You may wish they were,” she said, adding obviously there are dangerous people in the program.

But Lohmer asked what was wrong with community notification?

The bill passed the House 127 to 1.

Liebling voted for the bill.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, lauded its passage.

“One of our first responsibilities as legislators is public safety. Current state law regarding community notification of sex offenders contained an unfortunate loophole that could jeopardize public safety,” Zellers said.

“If high risk sex offenders are going to be released from the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, citizens deserve to know where they will live,” Zellers said.

In the Senate similar legislation is being carried by Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove.

In other matters, a bill by Sen. Ted Lillie, R-Lake Elmo, prohibiting unions from taking dues or fair share fees from state child care assistance program payments — assistance dollars for families needing help paying for day care — passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee on Monday.

No union officials spoke against the legislation.

But Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, thought the bill peculiar.

“This is a very, very, very unusual bill,”  he said. “You don’t really try to banish something before it’s proposed.”

The whole question of child care provider unionization remains unresolved, Marty argued.

Bill supporters were creating a “straw man” — applying a remedy to a problem that didn’t actually exist yet, Marty said.

But a handful of child care providers in support of the bill, including Pat Gentz of Dakota County and Hollee Saville, president of the Wright County Family Child Care Association and a St. Michael child provider, argued their concerns were legitimate.

“If people want to pay union dues, they can send the unions a check or set up automatic bill pay,” Saville said in a letter.

Committee Chairman David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, defended the bill, saying there was nothing normal about the entire child care unionization issue. No one was even talking about it before Gov. Mark Dayton issued his executive order calling for the provider election, Hann said.

Lillie’s bill passed the committee on a voice vote.

A Ramsey County District Court judge is expected to hear the unionization court case on Wednesday, Feb. 22.