By ALEXANDRA TEMPUS
ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — The Minnesota House passed a bill Monday to close a loophole in sex offender law in response to the upcoming provisional discharge of convicted child molester Clarence Opheim.
State law requires community notification when a sex offender moves in, but not if the offender moves to a halfway house. The legislation seeks to close this loophole and allow for the widest possible public notification upon a sex offender's discharge into any "residence facility."
Lawmakers approved the bill in a 127-1 vote after no debate. They first took a two-thirds vote to declare an emergency suspension of rules and accelerate the bill's progress.
Opheim, 64, has admitted engaging in sex acts with 29 children ages 8 to 17. He was admitted to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program in 1993, according to court documents. He will be the second person provisionally discharged from the program since it began. The only other man who was discharged was returned to the program on a technical violation.
Opheim will soon be discharged from a facility in St. Peter to one of two possible halfway houses in the Twin Cities area. There, he will continue treatment and be tightly supervised with a GPS tracker and drug tests. The Department of Human Services says there are no plans to move Opheim until at least mid-March.
House Majority Leader Matt Dean, a sponsor of the bill, noted a special review board determined Opheim presented a high-risk of re-offense in May 2011. "What happened between then and now that he's suddenly become the best person in (the) program to discharge?" Dean said.
Officials who originally objected to Opheim's release changed their mind after finding that he had been successful in treatment and could move into the community with a reasonable degree of safety.
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen said last week that Democrats would not stand in the way of the Republican-backed bill.
"All Minnesotans are concerned about public safety. ... I don't think that's a Democrat or Republican issue, I think that's a Minnesota issue," Thissen said, following the bill's passage.
The Senate will soon take up similar legislation.
Gov. Mark Dayton has said he will support the legislation, which would go into effect the day after it is signed into law.
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)