The head of a task force to recommend changes to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program says if the Legislature doesn't reform the program soon, a federal judge may force the state to act.
In response to a class action lawsuit, a federal judge ordered the Minnesota Department of Human Services to create the task force, chaired by former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Eric Magnuson.
The judge wants the state to bring the Minnesota Sex Offender Program in compliance with the Constitution, Magnuson said. County courts have indefinitely committed nearly 700 people to the program, and in the last 18 years just one person has been released.
If state legislators don't change the program soon, Magnuson said, the judge may impose expensive measures.
"The federal court's concern is the Constitution; it isn't the state's budget," he said. "And so if there is one way to do it that is immediate and effective but costs a lot more, the federal court may demand that."
There are currently two House bills and three Senate bills that would clarify the process of civil commitment to the Sex Offender Program, the procedure for appeal, the steps to discharge and the conditions of release.
Magnuson emphasized the need for action by lawmakers this session.
"The federal judge who's handling this isn't going to be very happy if the Legislature lets the session pass without taking any action," he said. "What impact that will have on the ultimate impact of the litigation, I don't know, but there's a very real possibility in lawsuits like this that the court will simply find the system unconstitutional and then impose some sanctions because of that."
The task force released 14 recommendations in December to make the program constitutional.