Both the Swift County Monitor and the West Central Tribune are reporting that the sponsors of legislation to lease or purchase the shuttered private prison owned by CoreCivic, the human traffickers formerly known as Correctional Corporation of America, are hopeful the language will go forward, neither HF1510 nor SF1322, its state senate companion bill, received committee hearings by Friday's deadline.
So how does that work? Spoiler alert: there's a way for the measure to go forward, although they missed the first deadline. This path may also help minimize messy citizen testimony and demonstrations in the state capitol.
In Appleton prison bill waiting to be heard in state Legislature, the Swift County Monitor reported in an article posted online Friday, March 10:
A bill that could put the Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton in a better position to house prisoners at some point in the future has been introduced in the Minnesota House by District 17A Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg. In the Senate, District 17 Sen. Andrew Lang, R-Olivia, is carrying the bill.
However, the bill has yet to have a hearing and with the deadlines rapidly approaching in the Minnesota Legislature for bills to be heard, time is running out for it to move forward this year. [emphasis BSP]
The bill deadlines are:
By March 10 committees must act favorably on bills in the house of origin;
By March 17 committees must act favorably on bills, or companion bills, that met the first deadline in the other house; and,
By March 31 committees must act favorably on major appropriation and finance bills.
Miller’s bill was introduced in the House Feb. 20 and referred to the Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee. It has yet to be heard in the committee. Though no hearing was scheduled for this week, Miller says that one “is in the works.”
So far, it's not scheduled to be heard next week in the committee where it was first sent. As of Saturday, March 11, 2017, the calendar for the Minnesota House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee is hearing the following bills next week:
Tuesday, March 14, 201710:15 AMRoom: 10 State Office BuildingChair: Rep. Tony CornishBills:HF1773 - (Anderson): Tax Court appeal notice date clarified, alternative proof of timely mailing allowed, and small claims jurisdiction increased,HF1838 - (Sauke): Tax related notice provisions modified.HF630 - (Rarick): Child out-of-home placement cost aid under the Indian Child Welfare Act provided, and money appropriated.HF1119 - (Theis): Criminal penalties modified.HF1847 - (Becker-Finn): Background check consistency provided.HF1670 - (Zerwas): Driver diversion program made permanent, proof of insurance provided by courts authorized, uniform traffic ticket amended, waiver of criminal surcharge authorized, court appearance for driving offenses mandated, and money appropriated.Attachments:(3/10/2017) H1670A5.pdf
Wednesday, March 15, 201710:15 AMRoom: 10 State Office BuildingChair: Rep. Tony CornishBills:HF1702 - (Kresha): Children under 14 informed of the right to counsel, waivers of counsel required in writing by the child, and notice to counsel required.HF1443 - (Loonan): Insurance fraud regulated, penalties and notices modified, term defined, Commerce Fraud Bureau authority to apply for or execute search warrants clarified.HF1932 - (Theis): Central Minnesota Sex Trafficking Task Force funding provided, and money appropriated.HF2017 - (Clark): Voice of East African Women grant for programs to reduce recruitment of East African youth by violent organizations established, grant to local governments with populations at risk for recruitment by violent organizations established, and money appropriated.HF2068 - (Daniels): Antiterrorism grant funding provided, and money appropriated.HF1833 - (Johnson): Emergency vehicles exempted from motor vehicle size, weight, and load restricts; and technical changes made.
Thursday, March 16, 201710:15 AMRoom: 10 State Office BuildingChair: Rep. Tony Cornish
Bills:HF2119 - (Urdahl): Disaster assistance account modified.HF1165 - (Backer): Farmer financial eligibility conformed to the general poverty-based standard, and income limit removed.HF1475 - (Franke): Soliciting or providing support for an act of terrorism crime created.HF1875 - (Zerwas): Controlled substance schedules modified.HF1892 - (Howe): Military member clarified, and veterans added to offense of impersonation.HF1179 - (Newberger): St. Cloud, Duluth, and Moorhead; emergency response teams funding provided, and money appropriated.HF2121 - (Cornish): Fire safety account funds appropriated.
Nevertheless, Miller and Lang remain happy warriors. At the West Central Tribune, Tom Cherveny reports in Legislators hopeful for Appleton prison legislation:
. . . State Sen. Andrew Lang, R-Olivia, and Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, expect the legislation they authored to be receiving committee hearings in the next week or two. Miller told the Tribune he is confident the legislation will win approval in the House. Lang said he is optimistic for the legislation in the Senate as well. . . .
We'll see if the bills are added next week, before the second deadline, even though they weren't heard in committee in either body by the first deadline.
DOC Spokester: Challenge Incarceration Programs more effective option
Meanwhile, Cherveny reports that "neither legislator has heard how Gov. Mark Dayton feels about the legislation this session." However, the veteran reporter did ask the Governor's agency about the plan:
The Department of Corrections is not interested in utilizing the space in the Appleton facility, according to [Department of Corrections communications director Sarah] Fitzgerald. The department wants to address the needs by investing in the Challenge Incarceration Programs at the correctional facilities in Moose Lake and Togo. The chemical dependency program reduces recidivism and encourages offenders to change their criminal behaviors, according to Fitzgerald.
"CIP has a recidivism rate of only 32 percent and the additional beds would have an impact of over a half million dollars in cost avoided per year,'' she told the Tribune in an email.
Fitzgerald mentions the CIP facilities that house male offenders; CIP for women moved to Shakopee in 2014. The prison in Appleton has housed male offenders only; reopening the facility would not address overcrowding at Shakopee nor address needs of female offenders now boarded at county jails, although Miller used their plight (reported in the Star Tribune) when he spoke in 2016 to his earlier bill (HF3223) for reopening the prison.
Cost of Appleton facility?
In the West Central Tribune article Miller brings up prison expansion plan that the Dayton administration has abandoned, without getting into specifics about how much re-opening and running the Appleton prison might cost.
Fortunately, there's a document from Miller's last prison rodeo (on behalf of his political contributors): the fiscal note created by House nonpartisan staff for 2016's HF3223. Here's that document:
Governor v. Cornish budget bills
Bluestem Prairie reached out to Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, the minority lead on the Minnesota House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee, in order to discover how policy bills that missed deadlines might still go forward. Hilstrom speculated that while the House bill itself wouldn't reach the floor without suspension of the rules, committee chair Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, could insert funding for leasing/purchasing, then operating the facility, in in his budget bill, which has yet to be unveiled.
According to Hilstrom, HF986 is the "governor's bill" for the courts, public safety and corrections. If Bluestem isn't mistaken (we may be), Cornish can hear testimony on the policy bills, but not move them forward; instead, the measure would be funded in the Public Safety omnibus budget bill.
One supposes that the language might also be slipped into another bill via the amendment process in committee or on the House floor--though that isn't exactly the "hearing" for the bills that Miller and Lang say they've been promised.
Should funding for leasing/purchasing and operating the prison reach the Governor's desk via an omnibus budget bill, Mark Dayton has the option of a line item veto. In Minnesota, a governor can use the line item for a budget line (example here), but not a policy line, Hilstrom explained to Bluestem.
Hilstrom is the author of HF1692, which would require all state and local prisoners to be housed in public facilities, while prohibiting the state and counties from contracting with private prisons. Like its senate companion bill, SF1675 (Ron Latz), the bill did not receive a committee hearing by the March 10 deadline. There's a lot of that going around.
We'll keep watching this issue.
Note: Process isn't Bluestem's forte, so if we've stumbled in this explanation, please let us know.
Photo: The prison fence, with Appleton's water tower behind it.
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