Urgent sex offender bill clears Senate on 67-0 vote

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Minnesota lawmakers are moving to close what they see as a loophole that could free civilly confined sex offenders too soon.

By a unanimous vote Monday, the Senate passed a bill to keep full discharge at bay for dozens of sex offenders and people confined with dangerous mental illness. It's a response to a state Court of Appeals ruling in January that the Supreme Court has declined to revisit.

The ruling could allow people meeting the criteria for limited discharge to be fully released before experts believe they're ready.

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said lawmakers must act to clarify the law before it's too late.

"It's simply unbelievable that Minnesota's safety has been put in jeopardy by the court's decision. Violent sex offenders and mentally ill people should not be released until we are absolutely sure they are no longer a danger to our community," Limmer said.

There are 21 people in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program who could be immediately impacted, with 120 more moving toward provisional discharge. There are more than 230 classified as mentally ill and dangerous individuals who are also on the doorstep of release.

The Department of Human Services, which administers the secured treatment programs, backs the proposal. Acting Commissioner Chuck Johnson said the Supreme Court's refusal to hear an appeal turned the matter into an urgent situation. He said the agency prefers gradual releases where the offenders are under security supervision, including ankle monitoring bracelets, before reaching full integration into society.

"The way this decision from the court reads is they could be immediately considered for a full discharge," Johnson said. "That means they go from being in a supervised situation in the community to being completely unsupervised and free to go where they want to."

The House has yet to vote on the legislation.