Minnesota officials expect costly sex offender program fix

Gov. Mark Dayton
Gov. Mark Dayton talked to reporters after a meeting where he outlined his plan for improving the Minnesota Sex Offenders Program with a federal judge and legislative leaders on August 10, 2015.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News

Updated: 5:35 p.m. | Posted: 11:05 a.m.

No consensus was reached on how to fix the troubled Minnesota Sex Offender Program during private meetings Monday between Gov. Mark Dayton, legislators and U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank.

Dayton disagreed with U.S. District Court Judge Donovan Frank's decision in June that the MSOP is unconstitutional, and he's pushing for the state to appeal the ruling. Still, Dayton offered a plan during the private conference to begin addressing some of the judge's concerns.

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Dayton's proposal includes biennial risk assessments for all patients, and alternative, less-restrictive housing available for lower-risk patients who need nursing home care. He estimates the changes would cost the state about $20 million a year.

"That's going to require funding that would have to come from the Legislature," Dayton said. The state intends to appeal the judge's final ruling when it comes down. Whether or not the appeal is successful and the program is ultimately determined to be constitutional, Dayton suggested there could be steps to make changes sooner. "I'm prepared to take those steps with the concurrence of the Legislature."

Dayton said he expects Judge Frank to order specific remedies for the MSOP well before the legislature's next regular session begins in March 2016, which might mean a special session would be needed.

But Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt said he thinks the court action, including a potentially lengthy appeal by the state, needs to play out before the Legislature takes any action.

"The judge will ultimately have to issue an order," Daudt said, "and the Legislature may or may not have to take action after that."

Daudt also said he believes the program is constitutional, and he supports an appeal. He said either way, it won't keep legislators from trying to change the program next session.

The House has previously resisted proposed changes to the MSOP, including a bipartisan measure that the Minnesota Senate passed two years ago.

DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said the 2013 bill addressed many of the issues raised by Judge Frank, and he's willing to take it up again. But Bakk favors action sooner rather than later.

"I think if the Legislature doesn't act on Judge Frank's order of constitutionality it starts to become a campaign issue," Bakk said. "I do think letting it run past the legislative session would likely lead to that."

Attorney Dan Gustafson, who represents those in the MSOP program suing the state, said he expects Judge Frank to order specific improvements to the offender program if state lawmakers fail to do so. Gustafson said a state appeal could take another 18 months.