Judiciary Committee Update

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Update: May 5, 2005 9:35 a.m.

Updates will be listed in reverse order with the most recent at the top.

Shooting range bill gains

The Judiciary Committee held a rare, post-deadline hearing Wed., May 4, in order to consider the judiciary issues in S.F. 1908, the Shooting Range Protections Act. The bill, authored by Sen. Satveer Chaudhary (DFL-Fridley), requires the commissioner of natural resources to develop and adopt shooting range performance standards, requires compliance with applicable noise and safety standards and restricts development or construction in the area of an existing shooting range which would cause the range to be out of compliance with noise and safety standards.

Chaudhary said the bill is the product of several years of effort about the encroachment of development on hunting preserves and shooting ranges. The bill has come to a stage where we are able to balance the interests of preserving our open spaces, preserving the ability of people to hunt and fish in the state and providing the opportunity for people to learn gun safety, Chaudhary said. The industry, outdoor groups and local units of government have all come together in support of the bill, Chaudhary said.

Les Bensch, Viking Valley Hunt Club, spoke in support of the bill. He said the bill preserves a cornerstone of one of the largest industries of the state-hunting. He said all parties worked to come to agreement on the bill. The measure provides local governments with standards by which to judge shooting range compliance, Bensch said. Kent Sulem, Minnesota Association of Townships, said after many years of opposing similar legislation at this point, the association supports the bill.

Melinda Lopes, a homeowner, spoke against the bill. She said it was not very pleasant to listen to the constant barrage of gunfire. She said she objected to provisions protecting shooting ranges from nuisance law suits. Lopes said, "It is a local issue. We are trying to live peacefully in our neighborhood."

Members adopted two amendments. The first amendment related to mitigation needed because of development. The second amendment specifies that the bill may not supersede more restrictive conditions imposed by ordinances and permits that are in effect prior to passage of the bill. The bill was approved and advanced to the Senate floor.

Data privacy provisions discussed

The second portion of the Tues., Apr. 12, Judiciary Committee hearing heard a range of bills originating in other committees.

S.F. 1722, sponsored by Sen. Becky Lourey (DFL-Kerrick), is a Human Services Department bill making changes to human services licensing provisions and background studies. The bill also makes some changes to data practices provisions and to voluntary termination of parental rights. In addition, there are some changes relating to data concerning predatory offenders. The committee, chaired by Sen. Don Betzold (DFL-Fridley), adopted two clarifying amendments and reviewed the provisions within the committee's jurisdiction. The bill was approved and advanced to the Senate floor.

S.F. 1504, sponsored by Sen. Claire Robling (R-Jordan), modifies motor vehicle and drivers license record privacy regulation. Betzold said the bill had been through the Data Practices Subcommittee where the judiciary related items had been folded into the omnibus data practices bill. Betzold said the measure contains nothing except transportation related items. The committee advanced the bill to the Finance Committee.

Sen. Rod Skoe (DFL-Clearbrook) sponsored a bill, S.F. 2117, that classifies the names and addresses of feedlot owners and the location of feedlots as private or nonpublic data when the data is gathered by the Bureau of Animal Health. Paul Anderson, Board of Animal Health, said the bill is needed to aid a national program to track animals in the case of disease outbreaks. The committee laid the bill over temporarily in order to amend the contents onto another data practices bill coming before the panel.

The data practices bill, S.F. 1883, sponsored by Sen. Wesley Skoglund (DFL-Mpls.), classifies specific State Board of Investment data as nonpublic, provides for security information and data and regulates motor vehicle and driver records. The latter portion of the bill was a separate bill specifying that a person may not retain information from magnetically, electronically or otherwise scanning a driver's license except for name, date of birth, license number and license expiration date. The material from S.F. 2117 was also amended into the bill. The bill was approved and sent to the full Senate.

Another bill containing data practices provisions was also considered. S.F. 1425, sponsored by Sen. Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen), classifies data relating to design-build projects of the Dept. of Transportation as nonpublic until the department publishes the information as part of the request for proposal process. The bill was approved and re-referred to the Committee on Finance.

S.F. 1733, sponsored by Sen. Thomas Neuville (R-Northfield), provides a factor of reasonableness for determining the amount of attorney fees awarded in actions where attorney's fees may be awarded. In addition, the bill prohibits an allowance for attorney fees incurred after an offer of judgment, if the damages awarded are less or the same as the offer of judgment. After significant discussion, Neuville moved to divide the bill. The panel approved the portion of the bill providing for a reasonableness factor in determining the award of attorney fees. Members failed to approve the portion prohibiting an allowance for fees incurred after an offer of judgment. The bill was approved and sent to the full Senate.

Ortman then moved to take from the table a bill, S.F. 415, defining the responsibilities of ski area operators and skiers. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Dallas Sams (DFL-Staples), had been tabled earlier in the week because of concerns that the measure went too far in protecting ski operators from liability. The motion was adopted. Ortman offered an amendment that creates a balance of interest between the operator and skiers. She said the amendment contains a rebuttable assumption of liability, sets forth the duties of ski area operators and the duties of skiers. The bill failed to advance on a divided voice vote.

I-Save Rx program gains

The Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Don Betzold (DFL-Fridley), met twice Tues., Apr. 12, to clear the agenda prior to the second committee deadline. Betzold explained many bills dealing with other subject areas are re-referred to the Judiciary Committee because of one or two provisions.

The panel began their day with discussion of a bill, S.F. 1892, that establishes participation in the I-Save Rx prescription drug program. Chief Author Dick Day (R-Owatonna) said Minnesotans have been paying too much for prescription drugs and it is time for the state to action. He said the bill allows entry into a program that is already up and running. The program began in Illinois and now four other states have joined, Day said. The bill allows consumers to purchase prescription drugs from a network of inspected and approved pharmacies in Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom, Day said. He said the program must include provisions to ensure the safety and quality of the prescriptions by requiring the inspection and approval of pharmacies who participate. The bill was before the committee, Betzold said, because of provisions dealing with liability immunity. The provision specifies the state is not liable for any injury or damage caused to a person from products obtained through the program. In addition, the state of Minnesota is not liable for acts or omissions of other participating state. Betzold said the bill does not limit liability for manufacturers or other parties. The bill was amended to authorize purchases of drugs from other countries with standards similar to the United States. The bill was approved and advanced to the Finance Committee.

S.F. 1969, authored by Sen. David Senjem (R-Rochester), provides that a court has discretion to allow a transaction of beneficial interest to a conservator, as long as the conservator can prove that the transaction is in the best interest of the protected person. The bill was approved and advanced to the floor. S.F. 196, sponsored by Sen. Mady Reiter (R-Shoreview), regulates liability on land used for recreational purposes and modifies the definition of recreational purposes as including rock climbing and exploring caves. Reiter said the bill was vetoed last year, but the governor has indicated the bill would be signed this year. The bill was approved and sent to the full Senate.

S.F. 1563, authored by Sen. Jane Ranum (DFL-Mpls.), increases the homestead exemption from creditors' claims from $200,000 to $500,000 for homesteads and from $500,000 to $1 million for agricultural homesteads. Ranum said the dollar amounts had not been raised since 1993. The bill was approved and sent to the Senate floor. S.F. 1360, authored by Sen. William Belanger (R-Bloomington), regulates unclaimed property held by cooperatives and the right to receive or recover unclaimed property. The bill also modifies public notice requirements. In addition, the bill updates language from the 1981 Unclaimed Property Act. The bill was approved and advanced to the Senate floor.

S.F. 1201, authored by Sen. Leo Foley (DFL-Coon Rapids), removes the sunset on the collection of biological specimens for DNA testing from persons convicted or adjudicated delinquent of a felony. Originally, the bill required DNA samples from all persons arrested or convicted of committing a felony. The committee, though, adopted an amendment, developed in another committee, to retain current law, but eliminate the sunset. Current law requires a felony conviction before a DNA sample is required. Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove) offered an amendment providing that data derived from the DNA sample only be used by law enforcement agencies. The bill was approved and re-referred to the Finance Committee.

A bill making numerous changes in insurance provisions was also heard. S.F. 1783, sponsored by Sen. Linda Scheid (DFL-Brooklyn Park), regulates agency terminations, coverages, fees, forms, disclosures, reports, premiums and information security. The bill was before the panel because of two provisions, Scheid said. One section provides definitions for the information security program and the other section requires licensees to implement a written information security program. The bill was approved and sent to the Finance Committee. S.F. 1672, sponsored by Sen. Scott Dibble (DFL-Mpls.), modifies provisions relating to property transactions of the Dept. of Transportation. The bill was approved and re-referred to the Finance Committee.

Child support bill approved

The Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Don Betzold (DFL-Fridley), held an evening meeting to resume its work on and approve S.F. 630, a bill relating to child support and custody.

Sen. Thomas Neuville (R-Northfield) authored S.F. 630, while Sen. Linda Berglin (DFL-Mpls.) carried similar legislation in S.F. 1900. Neuville, whose bill the committee plans to move forward, said he and Berglin have worked to resolve the discrepancies between their two bills. He offered an amendment to his bill containing the compromises he and Berglin reached.

First, said Neuville, the amendment changes the definition of gross income in relation to child care payments to include alimony, spousal maintenance, self-employment and spousal income. "We want to calculate payments based on true income, not taxable income," said Neuville. Second, the amendment modifies the definition of parenting time to include overnight visits as well as significant periods of time spent with a child, even if they are not overnight, he said. Third, Neuville said the amendment articulates five factors a court may consider to determine whether or not a parent who stays at home with a child is voluntarily unemployed. Another provision in the amendment limits the credit for non-joint children, children that share only one parent, to two, said Neuville. He said the provision is intended to prevent parents from having serial children. A fifth part of the amendment provides for a child to be put on MinnesotaCare if the child does not have health insurance and the child's non-custodial parent is on or is eligible for the program. Under the amendment, the custodial parent must pay a subsidized premium for the coverage. Neuville said the amendment also limits a section in his original bill allowing for child care rates to be determined by market rates. Seventh, the amendment changes the phrase for time a non-custodial parent spends with a child from "parenting time credit" to "parenting expense adjustment." Neuville said the amendment also allows a parent to receive the expense adjustment if the parent contributes at least 10 percent up to equal time of the parenting responsibilities. "We want to delink time and money" said Neuville, who added that the provision will eliminate the disincentive for custodial parents to allow their children more time with the non-custodial parent. The provision also reduces the expense adjustment from 18 to 12 percent. A final provision in the amendment, said Neuville, ties evaluation of whether non-custodial parents ability to support themselves to the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) index instead of the federal poverty guidelines.

Neuville said the portions of his original bill that are not changed by the amendment include the basic child support guideline, the marginal cost housing guideline and child care tax benefits as an offset to child care costs. Berglin said the bill reflects compromises on many issues and said she supports the bill with the amendment. She added that the amendment also alleviates many of the concerns various groups had about the original bill.

The amendment was adopted.

Sen. Satveer Chaudhary (DFL-Fridley) asked how much the measure will reduce child support. Neuville said it depends on the scenario, but added that, in general, individuals in a one-child situation would see a decrease in support while individuals in a two or more child situation will likely see an increase in support. Neuville also said the parenting expense allowance provision will affect the child support costs. Chaudhary also asked if enforcement measures remained the same under the bill. Neuville responded that they did. Finally, Chaudhary said he thought the bill is large and makes a lot of changes. He said he wished the proposed legislation would first take place as a pilot program in one or a few counties. "Just because it's a compromise doesn't mean that it's going to run well," said Chaudhary. "In fact, if it's a mesh of two different proposal,s there could be problems in terms of how the bill will operate," he said. Neuville said it would have been difficult to run a pilot program because of high mobility in the child support and custody system. He added that because the bill does not take effect for one and a half years, there is time for affected parties to study and train for the legislation.

Pamela Waggoner, legislative chair, Minnesota State Bar Association Family Law Section, said the amendment helps to bring the bill more into conformity with the task force's recommendations. However, Molly Olson, Center for Parental Responsibility, said it is unconscionable that the bill increases support payments for individuals supporting two or more children. Jim Huntsman said the bill would be better if it calculated the payments based on net income instead of gross income.

The committee approved the bill, as amended, and re-referred it to the Finance Committee.

The committee also heard S.F. 1710, the Department of Human Service's children's policy bill, carried by Sen. Becky Lourey (DFL-Kerrick). Lourey said the bill makes substantial policy changes. David Thompson, DHS, outlined maltreatment reporting law changes, which include implementing alternative response measures, changing time frames relating to the law and mandating that probation and corrections officers report maltreatment. Kris Johnson and Waylan Campbell, both of DHS, outlined changes to child protection and child support programs respectively. Lourey offered an amendment that helps to facilitate and expedite the reunification of children in foster homes with their families. The amendment was adopted.

Senators approved the bill, as amended, and sent it to the Finance Committee.

Skiing, obesity, class actions bills heard

Several topics were before members of the Judiciary Committee as they met Thurs., Apr. 7, to consider bills before the second committee deadline. Among the proposals were bills relating to the liability of skiers and ski area operators, the liability of food vendors for weight gain and the ability of parties to appeal the certification of class actions.

S.F. 415, presented by Sen. Steve Murphy (DFL-Red Wing) on behalf of Sen. Dallas Sams (DFL-Staples), defines the responsibilities, rights and liabilities governing the relationship between ski area operators and skiers. The measure prohibits actions for injuries resulting from the inherent dangers and risks of skiing. Everyone knows that skiing is dangerous, Murphy said. Lee Nelson, Welch Village, said Minnesota ski operators have faced increasing litigation and threatened litigation from skiers, often involving dangerous activity engaged in by skiers. Twenty-eight other states have provisions similar to what is proposed in S.F. 415, Nelson said. Without this protection, we are likely to see more ski areas close in Minnesota, he said.

Sen. Satveer Chaudhary (DFL-Fridley) said the bill tilts too far toward protecting operators against actions brought by skiers. The only duty really imposed on the operator, under the bill, is visible signage, he said. Chaudhary said the bill protected operators from the results of their own negligence in maintaining equipment or other misconduct. Sen. Wesley Skoglund (DFL-Mpls.) offered an amendment deleting a provision not requiring chair lifts to include passenger restraints. The amendment was adopted. Rochester attorney Jim Suk said many young skiers are the ones most likely to be injured. The bill does not provide for consumer safety, especially for young, inexperienced skiers, he said. The operator is off the hook after posting signs, Suk said, leaving families without compensation for the deaths or injuries of their children. The bill abolishes the common law responsibilities of a property owner, he said, in one of the most anti-consumer forms.

A motion to table the bill was approved.

S.F. 631, carried by Sen. David Hann (R-Eden Prairie), provides immunity from civil suit for weight gain or obesity to producers, growers, manufacturers, packers, distributors, carriers, holders, marketers and sellers of food and nonalcoholic beverages. Tom Day, Hospitality Minnesota, said academic studies indicate people are eating the same amount of food they have been eating for decades, but are exercising much less. Several food vendors have been sued for allegedly causing consumers to gain weight, he said, but personal responsibility needs to be maintained. Restaurants are already responding to the marketplace, providing consumers with more information and options to guide them in making dietary choices, Day said.

The bill is directed at a non-problem, said Joel Carlson of the Minnesota Trial Lawyers Association. No obesity lawsuits have been filed in Minnesota, he said. The bill also ignores the second leading cause of death in our country, obesity, Carlson said. Minnesota is not an overly litigious state, he said, and a broad grant of immunity to the industry is inappropriate without some consumer safeguard. No one denies that obesity is a problem, Hann said, but the question is who we are going to say is responsible: individuals or third party vendors. The bill does not prevent lawsuits based on mislabeling or disinformation, offering consumers protection, he said.

The bill was approved and sent to the full Senate.

S.F. 1416, carried by Sen. Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen), permits parties to immediately appeal trial judges' orders certifying or refusing to certify a class for a potential class action. Under the bill, all other proceedings in the action are stayed while the appeal is being decided. Mike Rothman, an attorney with Winthrop and Weinstine, said both sides in a potential class action face daunting cost issues depending on which way a class certification ruling goes. A plaintiff denied class certification often cannot afford to pursue an individual lawsuit, while a defendant must defend a class action, at great cost, only to later prevail on the class certification issue on appeal, Rothman said. Carlson spoke against the bill. He said Minnesota ranks very high in its pro-business court system, especially in the class action area. Class certification is not an issue that is appealed frequently, Carlson said. He also spoke against a provision in the bill requiring individuals to have suffered an ascertainable loss of money or property to be considered a member of a class. We allow class actions in civil rights litigation, Carlson said, where individuals may not have suffered monetary or property losses. S.F. 1416 was advanced to the Finance Committee.

Sen. Jane Ranum (DFL-Mpls.) sponsored S.F. 1438, which provides civil remedies for employer discrimination against employees taking time off from work to obtain orders for protection, to obtain restraining orders or to attend criminal proceedings as a witness, victim or member of the immediate family of a victim. Members adopted an amendment, offered by Sen. Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen), removing a provision limiting damages to six weeks' lost wages. The measure was re-referred to the Committee on Jobs, Energy and Community Development.

S.F. 917, presented by Sen. LeRoy Stumpf (DFL-Plummer) on Sams' behalf, provides grants to agencies encouraging women to carry pregnancies to term. The bill requires programs receiving grants to have privacy policies and procedures ensuring that information identifying women seeking services is not made public or shared with other organizations without written consent. Marty offered an amendment requiring that referrals for adoption services be made only to accredited adoption agencies. The amendment was adopted and the bill forwarded to the Finance Committee.

S.F. 2066, carried by Skoglund, provides criminal penalties for animal fighting, such as dogfighting and cockfighting. Members removed from the bill provisions under their jurisdiction, which labeled certain evidence as competent. Committee Chair Don Betzold (DFL-Fridley) said the existing Rules of Evidence are sufficient to establish what evidence a court will consider. The bill was approved and advanced to the Finance Committee.

Transportation bills data provisions heard

The Judiciary Subcommittee on Data Practices held an evening meeting Tues., Apr. 5, to review bills dealing with a variety of subject areas that have provisions relating to data practices. S.F. 1504, authored by Sen. Claire Robling (R-Jordan), modifies provisions regulating motor vehicle and driver applications and records. The bill also modifies vehicle accident reports and procedures. The data practices portion of the bill clarify that data provided to register a vehicle is classified according to federal law, permits a vehicle owner to consent in writing to the disclosure of personal information otherwise exempted by federal law and eliminates the requirement that the Dept. of Public Safety allow vehicle owners to request that bulk surveys, marketing or solicitation not be directed to them. The measure also permits a vehicle owner to request classification of the owner's name and address as private data on individuals if the classification is needed to protect the owner's family's safety.

S.F. 1731, carried by Sen. Satveer Chaudhary (DFL-Fridley), regulates data obtained by scanning drivers' licenses, permits and identification cards. Under the bill, a person may not retain information from scanning the licenses, permits or identification cards except for the holder's name, date of birth, license or identification card number and expiration date. In addition, the bill specifies the information may not be used for advertising or marketing purposes.

S.F. 1425, authored by Sen. Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen), provides for the classification of specific Dept. of Transportation data as protected nonpublic or confidential data when the department is undertaking a design-build project. The bill provides that the data become public when published as part of a request for proposal process.

S.F. 708, sponsored by Sen. Debbie Johnson (R-Ham Lake), classifies specific financial or proprietary data of the State Board of Investment as nonpublic and provides definitions of financial or proprietary data. S.F. 1883, carried by Subcommittee Chair Wesley Skoglund (DFL-Mpls.), provides for the classification of security data and data created or maintained by a government entity as part of the selection or evaluation process. The bills were laid over for possible inclusion in S.F. 1883.

Human trafficking ban gains

A bill providing for civil and corporate liability for trafficking in persons was approved by members of the Judiciary Committee when they met on the day of the first deadline, Tues., Apr. 5.

S.F. 1689, carried by Sen. Sandra Pappas (DFL-St. Paul), provides both civil and criminal remedies for trafficking in persons. Provisions under the committee's jurisdiction permit victims of trafficking to sue persons who have violated the bill's criminal trafficking provisions, permit courts to award punitive damages and attorney fees and allow courts to order dissolution or reorganization of corporations engaged in trafficking of persons. The measure also provides for the distribution of proceeds from the sale of property forfeited for violation of the trafficking ban. Members adopted an amendment, offered by Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville), providing that a victim's age or consent is not a defense to a civil action for human trafficking. S.F. 1689 was advanced to the Finance Committee.

Sen. Satveer Chaudhary (DFL-Fridley) carried a measure, S.F. 1307, requiring businesses, which own or license computerized data containing personal information, to disclose security breaches to persons whose data may have been compromised by the breach. Chaudhary offered, and the committee adopted, an amendment expanding the bill's scope to include non-computerized data. Members also adopted an amendment, offered by Sen. Thomas Neuville (R-Northfield), providing for enforcement of the requirement by the attorney general and by private civil action. The measure was sent to the full Senate.

S.F. 227, sponsored by Sen. Yvonne Prettner Solon (DFL-Duluth), establishes a cancer drug repository program. A provision in the bill provides immunity from civil liability to persons participating in the program, unless the acts involve reckless, wanton or intentional misconduct or professional malpractice. The bill was re-referred to the Finance Committee. S.F. 1956, authored by Sen. Linda Berglin (DFL-Mpls.), creates a public corporation responsible for the management of Hennepin County Medical Center. The bill exempts the public corporation from the open meeting and data practices laws governing governmental bodies, but does require the corporation to make financial information publicly available and to hold annual public meetings. S.F. 1956 also makes the corporation a municipality for purposes of the Municipal Tort Claims Act. The bill was sent to the Senate floor.

Terminated employee data access bill okayed

A measure preserving access to data relating to terminated state employees was approved by members of the Judiciary Committee, meeting during the evening hours of Thurs., Mar. 31. S.F. 819, carried by Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville), requires the data to be preserved for at least three years after the employee has been terminated.

Sen. David Hann (R-Eden Prairie) said the bill also appears to require reinstatement of an employee if data was mishandled or lost, regardless of the relationship between the data and the employee's reason for termination. An employee may be terminated for all the right reasons, he said, but be reinstated because of a data mistake. Sen. Thomas Neuville (R-Northfield) offered an amendment providing that reinstatement occurs only if the lost data relates to the reasons an employee was terminated or the employee's claimed reasons for wrongful termination. The amendment was adopted.

Paul Larson, deputy commissioner of employee relations, said a provision prohibiting employers from taking adverse action against an employee who reports serious waste, inefficiency or mismanagement could serve as a ruse for employees. Any employee could allege inefficiencies or perceived mismanagement, he said. Larson also noted that the provision applies to unclassified employees, such as deputy and assistant commissioners, who serve entirely at the pleasure of the appointing authority. Marty said the provision is targeted at retaliatory termination, not termination for legitimate reasons. S.F. 819 was advanced to the Finance Committee.

Committee members, chaired by Sen. Don Betzold (DFL-Fridley), also took action on six additional bills at the evening meeting. S.F. 361, carried by Sen. Wesley Skoglund (DFL-Mpls.), is the omnibus data practices bill, containing provisions from numerous measures heard by the Data Practices Subcommittee over the course of the session. Members adopted an amendment, offered by Betzold, deleting provisions relating to copy fees that may be assessed to individuals seeking access to data. S.F. 361 was advanced to the full Senate. Betzold carried S.F. 966, which contained the copy fee provisions deleted from the omnibus data practices bill. Because the provisions must be reviewed by the Finance Committee, Betzold said he wanted them to advance separately. S.F. 966 was re-referred to the Finance Committee.

S.F. 1211, also sponsored by Betzold, revises adoption procedures for children under the child protection law. The measure was re-referred to the Finance Committee. Neuville carried S.F. 1920, which allows judges to consider best interests factors, but does not require best interests findings, when awarding temporary custody of children in domestic abuse proceedings. The bill was sent to the Senate floor. Neuville also sponsored the omnibus family law bill, S.F. 644. The bill contains provisions from proposals heard by the Family Law Subcommittee over the course of the session. Members adopted an amendment, offered by Betzold, clarifying surrogacy issues related to paternity presumption modifications in the bill. Members also deleted provisions relating to spousal maintenance collection by the Dept. of Human Services. S.F. 644 was sent to the full Senate. S.F. 1479, carried by Sen. Becky Lourey (DFL-Kerrick), containing the spousal maintenance provisions, was also sent to the full Senate. Betzold said there is an urgency of action regarding the spousal maintenance collection issue and a separate bill permits the provisions to be considered more quickly.

The committee also considered, but took no action on, two child support reform bills-S.F. 630, carried by Neuville, and S.F. 1900, carried by Sen. Linda Berglin (DFL-Mpls.). The authors reviewed the approach each bill takes and the differences between the bills. Betzold said S.F. 630 would be the vehicle for any child support modifications. He said the companion bill has already met deadline in the other body, so the measure does not need immediate action in the committee.

Emergency powers bill discussed

The Judiciary Committee met Thurs., Mar. 31, to consider two bills relating to emergency powers. The panel, chaired by Sen. Don Betzold (DFL-Fridley), also took action on two additional bills.

S.F. 1483, making modifications to the Minnesota Emergency Health Powers Act, sparked considerable discussion. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Becky Lourey (DFL-Kerrick), defines a declared emergency as a national security or peacetime emergency declared by the governor. The bill also limits the definition of volunteers in emergency or disaster situations as employees of the state or local government units, removes public health emergencies from provisions regulating national security or peacetime emergency declarations, authorizes the governor to issue emergency executive orders upon finding the number of seriously ill or injured persons in excess of the emergency hospital or medical transport capacity of one or more regional hospital systems and continues provisions under the act beyond the sunset.

Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove) offered an amendment providing for a sunset on several provisions to Aug. 1, 2007. The bill provides that other sections sunset Aug. 1, 2005. Members adopted the amendment.

Members also adopted an amendment specifying that when the governor declares a peacetime emergency, the leadership of the Senate and House of Representatives must be notified immediately. The amendment also authorizes the Legislature to terminate a peacetime emergency extending beyond 30 days. Under the amendment, if the Legislature is not in session the governor must call a special session in order to extend the emergency beyond 30 days.

The bill was approved and advanced to the Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee.

A second bill, S.F. 1482, relating to emergency situations was also approved. The bill, sponsored by Lourey, modifies provisions for isolation and quarantine of persons exposed to or infected with a communicable disease. Limmer offered an amendment extending the sunset to Aug. 1, 2007. Members adopted the amendment and approved the bill. The measure was re-referred to the Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee.

The committee also approved two additional bills. S.F. 1253, sponsored by Sen. Sandra Pappas (DFL-St. Paul), makes changes to provisions relating to the management and operation of the St. Paul RiverCentre complex. The bill was sent to the full Senate. S.F. 1729, carried by Sen. Steve Kelley (DFL-Hopkins), authorizes the State Board of Investment to make venture capital investments using the environmental and natural resources trust fund. The measure was approved and advanced to the Finance Committee.

CIBRS data classification heard

A bill providing for the treatment of information in the Comprehensive Incident-Based Reporting System (CIBRS), maintained by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, was heard by members of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Data Practices at their Tues., Mar. 29, meeting.

S.F. 1833, carried by Subcommittee Chair Wesley Skoglund (DFL-Mpls.), allows CIBRS data to be used only by law enforcement agencies and only for criminal investigations and background checks. The data in the system is classified as private when an investigation becomes inactive or when the data has not been updated for 120 days, under the bill. The measure also limits the use of CIBRS data to personnel certified by the bureau and provides procedures for data subjects to challenge system data.

Bloomington Police Chief John Laux said the system is needed to let law enforcement officers do their jobs effectively on a daily basis. It is absolutely necessary that law enforcement be able to share credible data, he said. Law enforcement supports necessary, appropriate restrictions on the use of data so that individuals' rights are respected, Laux said. Wabasha County Sheriff Rodney Bartsch said law enforcement agencies of all sizes need access to each other's information. S.F. 1833 was recommended for inclusion in the omnibus data practices bill.

Panel members also considered three additional bills. Sen. Sandra Pappas (DFL-St. Paul) carried a bill, S.F. 1253, permitting the St. Paul Convention and Visitors Bureau to merge with the RiverCentre Authority, creating a nonprofit organization to manage the RiverCentre complex. Members adopted an amendment, at Pappas's request, clarifying the applicability of the Open Meeting Law and the Data Practices Act to the merged entity. The amended bill provides that the laws apply to the new organization, except that data used in preparing or submitting requests for proposals or requests for bids relating to events involving the city are classified as nonpublic or private for five years. Shamus O'Meara, a member of the existing RiverCentre Authority board, said the exception is necessary to ensure that the new organization is not placed at a competitive disadvantage compared to other convention and visitors bureaus. The bill was advanced to the full committee.

S.F. 1729, sponsored by Sen. Steve Kelley (DFL-Hopkins), classifies as nonpublic the financial and proprietary data acquired in connection with venture investments made by the State Board of Investment. Data related to the amount, market value, board commitment, rate of return and industry of activity are classified public, under the bill. Howard Bicker, the board's executive director, said many venture firms are no longer allowing public entities to invest as limited partners because of the ability of competitors to gather information that non-public investors are not required to disclose. Bicker said current disclosure requirements hamper the state's ability to engage in investment activity it has used since the 1990s. Richard Neumeister, a citizen activist, said three additional pieces of information-the date the firm was established, the names of principals and a description of the types of business engaged in by the firm-should also be made public. He said the need for secrecy regarding real estate investments was not as compelling as the need in other venture areas. Kelley said the information suggested by Neumeister was not eligible for protection under the bill, since the information is not considered proprietary and the information is readily available under most states' required corporate filings. S.F. 1729 was forwarded to the full committee.

Sen. David Senjem (R-Rochester) carried a bill, S.F. 853, permitting six boards within the Dept. of Employment and Economic Development to hold meetings electronically. Similar authority already exists for four other boards within the department. The measure was recommended for inclusion in the omnibus data practices bill.

The subcommittee also considered provisions from two tax bills, S.F. 1209 and S.F. 823, which were not before the committee. Mike Roelofs and Rick Walser, both with the Dept. of Revenue, discussed the proposals. The provisions from S.F. 823 provide that the taxpayer identification numbers of business entities are public data and clarify that, for a business entity, the data subject is a partner, owner or officer, the individual who signed the business's tax return or an employee responsible for dealing with tax matters. The provisions from S.F. 1209 relate to information about complaints made against tax preparers. Under the bill, complaint information is nonpublic until a tax preparer is penalized, at which point the information is made public.

Child custody bills heard

The Judiciary Subcommittee on Family Law returned from their spring break Tues., Mar. 29, to consider several bills dealing with child custody and related provisions.

The panel began work on a bill, S.F. 1900, providing for an income shares system of child support. Sen. Linda Berglin (DFL-Mpls.) said the idea for an income shares system for child support has been around for a long time. She said the measure is the product of recommendations made by a gubernatorial task force on child support, maintenance, and child custody. She said the bill bases child support on the income of both parents, but uses the gross income of the parents. The bill also recognizes that noncustodial parents have expenses, but does not tie support orders to parenting time. It incorporates recommendations of a work group on medical support in order to guide the court on ordering medical support. The bill makes numerous other changes relating to child support. Berglin said the bill is superior to other legislation before the panel because it preserves many of the positive elements of the current system. Members discussed the bill before advancing it to the full committee for further discussion and work.

Subcommittee Chair Thomas Neuville (R-Northfield) sponsored a bill, S.F. 1920, returning to a safety focus when awarding custody and parenting time in the context of a domestic abuse hearing. The measure was approved and advanced to the full committee.

S.F. 1136, sponsored by Sen. Michele Bachmann (R-Stillwater), requires that a final adoption decree must include a contact agreement between the adoptive parents and the birth relatives. The bill also specifies that an adoption placement is terminated if the agreement is violated by the adoptive parents. The measure also imposes forfeitures of aids or government subsidies if the adoptive parents fail to honor the agreement. In addition, the measure provides that the contact rights of birth relatives are canceled if the birth relatives violate the agreement. The bill also encourages mediation to allow the parties to come to agreement on the terms of the contact agreement, Bachmann said. Debi Burmeister, a grandparent, spoke in support of the bill and told of her experience when her grandchildren's adoptive family decided to not allow the Burmeisters to see their grandchildren. She said she and her husband had no recourse when the adoptive parents violated an open adoption agreement which had specified they could visit the children. Members approved the bill for inclusion in the omnibus bill.

In other action, the panel also approved a bill clarifying that support orders also include orders for spousal maintenance. S.F. 1479, sponsored by Sen. Becky Lourey (DFL-Kerrick), also allows the Dept. of Human Services to continue using its collection process for a spousal order, whether or not the order contains a child support order. Lourey said the department had been collecting the spousal maintenance, but stopped the practice last summer. The bill was recommended for inclusion in the subcommittee's omnibus family law bill, S.F. 644.

S.F. 1211, authored by Sen. Don Betzold (DFL-Fridley), provides for a background check of an individual being considered as a custodian and modifies the requirements for adoption consents and placement resources for children who are in the legal custody of a social services agency. The measure was sent to the full committee for additional work before being included in the omnibus family law bill.

Finally, members also considered S.F. 1581. The bill, also sponsored by Neuville, requires information about legal descriptions in summary real estate disposition judgments. The measure was recommended for inclusion in the panel's omnibus bill.

'Sick homes' bill discussed

A bill providing procedures to resolve disputes over construction defects between contractors and homeowners was considered by the Judiciary Committee, Tues., Mar. 22. The panel, chaired by Sen. Don Betzold (DFL-Fridley), had previously considered the measure, but laid it over for further consideration.

Sen. Linda Scheid (DFL-Brooklyn Park), chief author, said S.F. 1287 is an attempt to bring builders to the table to work out issues with homeowners. Committee members adopted an amendment, suggested by Scheid, reflecting the committee's previous discussion of the bill. Scott Andresen, an attorney who represents homeowners, said the bill's requirements apply only to general contractors, leaving homeowners to deal with two different processes for resolving problems with their homes. He said a requirement for written notice, delivered by U.S. mail, does not reflect the common practice of an owner calling the builder and seeking to resolve the problems. Written notice and other technical provisions, Andresen said, encourage owners to seek the advice of an attorney. The law should encourage resolution of problems without involving attorneys, if possible, he said. Members adopted an amendment, offered by Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove), providing for actual notice, instead of written notice, to the builder.

Sen. Thomas Neuville (R-Northfield) offered an amendment providing for recovery of attorney fees by a homeowner if the claim goes to trial and the homeowner recovers at least 110 percent of the builder's last offer. The amendment encourages parties to make fair offers and puts pressure on both sides to resolve problems without litigation, he said. The amendment was adopted.

After lengthy discussion of other issues raised by Andresen, other attorneys and homeowners, Scheid requested the committee lay the bill over. The measure deals with very sticky and very real issues, she said. Scheid said people are not finding redress for their claims under the current system. She said the system is very expensive and time consuming. Homeowners get very frustrated, Scheid said, and many say all they want is for the builder to work with them.

In other action, committee members considered several other bills. S.F. 778, carried by Sen. Leo Foley (DFL-Coon Rapids), changes the scope of a court's hearing on appeal of a plate impoundment order. Under the bill, the court no longer considers questions of ownership of a vehicle or the status of a violator's driver's license. The bill was advanced to the full Senate. S.F. 1143 expands the applicability of domestic abuse no contact orders. The measure, sponsored by Sen. Jane Ranum (DFL-Mpls.), had been previously heard by the committee but was laid over. Sen. Wesley Skoglund (DFL-Mpls.) offered an amendment, on Ranum's behalf, clarifying the language and providing that multiple violations of a domestic abuse no contact order are multiple crimes. The amendment was adopted. The measure was sent to the Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee.

S.F. 1603, carried by Sen. Mee Moua (DFL-St. Paul), imposes a civil penalty on railroads that delay treatment of injured employees or discipline employees for requesting medical treatment. Members adopted an amendment, suggested by Moua, providing for administrative hearings after complaints are filed with the commissioner of labor and industry. The amendment, which effectively removed the bill from the committee's jurisdiction, was adopted. The bill was re-referred to the Committee on Jobs, Energy and Community Development.

Sen. Ann Rest (DFL-New Hope) authored S.F. 1010, which puts on creditors the burden of claiming that income is not exempt from garnishment. Under the bill, the debtor asserts the exemption and the creditor has to prove otherwise, Rest said. Christian Walker, Attorney General's Office, said the bill requires creditors to request a hearing if they object to a debtor's claim of exemption over income. Under current law, he said, the debtor must request the hearing. The bill shortens the process, encourages creditors to examine debtor's fund sources and lets consumers get access to their funds back quickly, Walker said. He said the bill imposes no additional burdens on financial institutions or courts. Lisa Haster, co-chair of the Debtor/Creditor Remedies Committee of the Hennepin County Bar Association, said the focus should be on educating debtors about how to inform creditors of exemptions. The information submitted by debtors is often invalid or incomplete, she said. Joe Witt said the Minnesota Bankers Association prefers waiting, since interested parties plan to work on substantial reform of the garnishment system this summer. The system was established years ago and needs updating, he said. Each issue should be considered in the greater context, Witt said, rather than in a piecemeal fashion. Rest said the change is a small one, but provides significant relief to a small group of debtors whose income is exempt. The measure was sent to the Finance Committee.

Data practices bills heard

Four bills were processed at the Thurs., Mar. 17, meeting of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Data Practices. S.F. 1023, authored by Sen. James Metzen (DFL-South St. Paul), modifies the classification of human services licensing data. Under the bill, information about injuries and deaths in licensed welfare programs, the names of the perpetrators of maltreatment, the nature of a disqualification for which a variance from a licensing rule was allowed and disclosure that a person has successfully passed a background study are all made public. Metzen said the bill makes public information about licensed day care providers that have had problems, in order to better inform the public. Dakota County Commissioner Nancy Schouweiler spoke in support of the bill. She said, "The right to privacy does not outweigh the safety of a child." The measure was approved for inclusion in the subcommittee's omnibus data practices bill.

Two bills sponsored by Sen. Steve Kelley (DFL-Hopkins) were also heard. S.F. 1153 authorizes a classroom contribution refund. Kelley said the refund would operate in much the same way political contribution refunds operate. He said a taxpayer may claim a refund equal to the amount of the contribution or if single, $50, or if married filing jointly, $100, whichever is less. The bill also classifies information relating to the identities of individuals claiming a refund and the amount of each contribution as private. The bill was approved and advanced to the full committee. A second bill sponsored by Kelley, S.F. 1212, provides that claims experience and related information received by Minnesota service cooperatives in connection with group health and dental plans is available to only three types of requesters. Kelley said, the bill specifies that companies who want to submit a competitive bid, governmental units that are part of the service cooperative and representatives of exclusive bargaining units who need the information for negotiations are the only entities allowed access to the data. The measure was approved for inclusion in the omnibus bill.

The subcommittee, chaired by Sen. Wesley Skoglund (DFL-Mpls.), approved one additional bill. S.F. 926, sponsored by Sen. Don Betzold (DFL-Fridley), classifies specific investigative and licensing data relating to the identity of a perpetrator of maltreatment of vulnerable adults as public. The measure was approved for inclusion in the omnibus bill.

Employee status bill debated

The Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Don Betzold (DFL-Fridley), spent the lion's share of the Tues., Mar. 15, hearing discussing a bill relating to misrepresentation of employee status. S.F. 588, authored by Sen. Satveer Chaudhary (DFL-Fridley), prohibits an employer from misrepresenting the nature of its employment relationship with its employees. Chaudhary said the bill is aimed at getting at the problem of employers saying employees are independent contractors in order to avoid paying workers compensation insurance, unemployment insurance or for other reasons. Chaudhary said some employees are unaware their employer considers them independent contractors until they receive 1099 forms, rather than W2 forms, at the end of the year.

Jeffrey Miller, representing the Carpenters Union, spoke in support of the measure and told of instances in which employers avoided paying for workers compensation by misclassifying employees. Chaudhary emphasized the bill only deals with the situation in which employers are breaking existing law. The bill provides for civil remedies and prohibits employers from requiring employees to enter into any agreement that results in the misclassification of the employee as an independent contractor. In addition, supporters said employers who abide by the law and pay for workers compensation insurance and for other benefits are penalized in bidding on contracts because employers who do not abide by the law can underbid them.

Sen. Julianne Ortman (R-Chanhassen) moved to lay the bill on the table. The motion failed on a divided voice vote. Sen. Thomas Neuville (R-Northfield) moved to amend the measure to specify that an employer misrepresents the nature of its employment relationship with its employees if it knowingly fails to report individuals as employees when legally required to do so. Chaudhary asked that members reject the amendment because earlier language had been worked out by interesting parties. The amendment was withdrawn and members adopted an amendment that clarified the language. Ortman moved to delete the provision in the bill authorizing civil remedies. The amendment failed. Neuville offered an amendment to delete language relating to a rebuttable presumption. The amendment failed. Sen. David Hann (R-Eden Prairie) offered an amendment specifying that an employer may not require or request any employee to enter into any agreement, or sign any document, with the intention of misclassifying the employee. Hann said the amendment was designed to clarify that an error in classification was not covered by the bill. The amendment was not adopted. The bill was approved and re-referred to the Jobs, Energy and Community Development Committee.

In other action, the committee advanced two additional bills. S.F. 467, carried by Sen. Michele Bachmann (R-Stillwater), exempts the Disabled Veterans Rest Camp on Big Marine Lake in Washington County from condemnation proceedings. The measure also provides that the camp is exempt from property taxes and provides for a planned unit development zoning classification for the facility. Bachmann said the bill is designed to preserve the camp for future use by veterans. Betzold and Sen. Wesley Skoglund (DFL-Mpls.) said the bill applied statewide and that the measure might have unintended consequences for other veteran's properties. Members adopted an amendment clarifying the bill applies only to Washington County. Members also expressed concern about codifying the language in statute, rather than in session law. The bill was approved and re-referred to the Tax Committee.

A bill, S.F. 308, clarifying that governmental units may seek remedies for building and other code violations whether or not the building is occupied, was also approved. The measure, authored by Sen. Sharon Marko (DFL-Cottage Grove), was recommended for placement on the Consent Calendar.

Child support reform bill gains

A measure replacing Minnesota's current child support framework with an income shares model cleared its first hurdle, Thurs., Mar. 10, and gained the support of members of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Family Law. The bill, S.F. 630, will next be heard in the full Judiciary Committee.

Carried by Subcommittee Chair Thomas Neuville (R-Northfield), the bill also offers a credit against child support obligations for parenting time, requires an economic study of the proposed child support guidelines before the guidelines go into effect and prevents the change in child support guidelines from being, on its own, a sufficient basis for a modification of a child support obligation. Neuville said the majority of states have adopted an income shares approach. The bill tries to take the best provisions of the child support law from Oregon, he said, with some modifications. Even when the new guidelines do not change an existing award, Neuville said, the perception under an income shares model is that both parents contribute to supporting children.

As originally introduced, S.F. 630 also recodified the state's marriage dissolution and custody laws. Subcommittee members adopted an amendment, offered by Neuville, paring the bill down to the child support provisions. Before acting, the panel also heard from attorneys and parents on the proposal. Michael Ditburner said members of the Academy of Matrimonial Attorneys opposes any guidelines that are lower than those recommended by a 2001 task force. The group supports the income shares approach, but believes different guidelines are appropriate, he said. The guidelines in the bill also underestimate the costs of children, Ditburner said. The parenting time credits will increase litigation as noncustodial parents seek more time to lower their support obligation, he said. Lawmakers should wait to get more information, he said. However, Neuville said no other state uses guidelines similar to the ones advocated by the academy. The guidelines the academy supports have not been shown to have a solid economic base, Neuville said.

Michele Del Castillo and Jen Peterson, members of the Association for Children for Enforcement of Support, said the bill effectively reduces support for many children. Del Castillo said many noncustodial parents fight tooth-and-nail to get parenting time rights but do not actually use their time. Del Castillo and Peterson also urged Legislators to focus on improving enforcement and collection efforts before adjusting the guidelines. Sen. Don Betzold (DFL-Fridley) said the Legislature has taken great pains to make it possible for noncustodial parents to collect on arrearages, but at some point parents who want to obscure their amounts and sources of income will be successful. Jim Huntsman said the income shares approach is appropriate, but the state needs better data on guidelines.

In other action, subcommittee members considered three other bills. S.F. 1337, carried by Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville), requires persons with custody of children to notify the court, the local child protection agency and the noncustodial parent if the custodial person is sharing a residence with a person convicted of a crime that disqualifies someone from getting custody. The panel also adopted an amendment, offered by Marty, requiring sex offenders to inform their supervisory agents if they are residing in homes with children. Marty also said he was working on language placing noncustodial parents under similar requirements, since a child could be placed in a dangerous situation while visiting. The bill was advanced to the full committee.

S.F. 1152, authored by Sen. Rod Skoe (DFL-Clearbrook), allows putative fathers to register with the Fathers' Adoption Registry after the ordinary time to do so has elapsed, if the father can show that he was actively misled about the existence of the pregnancy or birth of the child. S.F. 1211, carried by Betzold, revises adoption procedures for children in need of protection. The bill requires the consent of the commissioner of human services before an adoption can go forward and requires a background check to be performed on relatives or parents before placement. Both bills were laid over for further consideration.

Construction defect bill heard

A bill aimed at dealing with "sick houses" was heard at the Tues., Mar. 8, meeting of the Judiciary Committee. S.F. 1287, authored by Sen. Linda Scheid (DFL-Brooklyn Park), provides procedures to govern disputes about construction defects in residential housing. Scheid said homeowners who discover major defects in their homes, such as mold, often experience delays and difficulties dealing with contractors. Scheid said the bill provides for an opportunity to repair by setting out a timeline for owners to provide notice, for contractors to respond, for inspections to be done and for contractors to either offer to settle by monetary payment, making repairs or a combination of both or decide no response offer will be made. If the claimant rejects the settlement offer, the contractor has 15 days to make a supplemental offer to settle. If the claimant accepts an offer and the contractor performs in accordance with the settlement, the claimant may not bring an action against the contractor. If the claimant rejects the offer, the claimant must provide notice of the rejection prior to commencing an action.

Scheid said the aim is to expedite the process by setting out concrete deadlines. Remy Stone of the Minnesota Builders Association spoke in support of the measure. She said the bill provides a mechanism to settle disputes. Tony Goulet, a builder, said the bill forces builders to take an active role early in the process. "I have found the sooner I can meet with the homeowner and resolve the problem, the better for all involved," Goulet said.

Joel Carlson, Minnesota Trial Lawyers, spoke in opposition to some of the language in the bill. He said the Minnesota Trial Lawyers were not opposed to the concept behind the bill. Carlson said, "Our concern is if a claimant does not respond or if the claimant is not satisfied with the repairs, are the claimants barred from bringing an action?" We also have concerns about the common interest ownership portion of the bill, Carlson said.

Sen. Wesley Skoglund (DFL-Mpls.) offered an amendment clarifying that if a settlement is accepted and the work is done in accordance with the settlement the claim is satisfied, but if another defect is found, the claimant is not barred from bringing an action. The amendment was adopted. The bill was laid over in order to draft amendments to address other concerns expressed by members of the committee.

The committee, chaired by Sen. Don Betzold (DFL-Fridley), also heard a bill expanding the applicability of the domestic abuse no contact order. S.F. 1143, sponsored by Sen. Jane Ranum (DFL-Mpls.), clarifies that a domestic abuse no contact order is an order issued by a court against a defendant in a criminal proceeding for domestic abuse, violation of an order for protection, violation of a domestic abuse no contact order, harassment or stalking. Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville) said the language was unclear because the bill seemed to say it was a violation of a domestic abuse no contact order for violation of a domestic abuse no contact order. Ranum said the county attorney's in the Second Judicial District had determined that a domestic abuse no contact order did not include the cases specified in the bill. Members laid the bill over in order to draft clarifying language.

Members also discussed a bill limiting postconviction relief. S.F. 1207, carried by Sen. Leo Foley (DFL-Coon Rapids), limits a petition for postconviction relief may not raise grounds that could have been raised on appeal. In addition, the bill specifies that government appeals do not require payment of defendant attorney fees and costs. Betzold offered an amendment deleting the portion of the bill relating to payment of attorney fees. The amendment was adopted and the bill advanced to the Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee.

Family law bill draft distributed

Members of the Judiciary Committee held a brief meeting Thurs., Mar. 3, to consider two bills and to receive copies of a major child support bill. S.F. 630, sponsored by Sen. Thomas Neuville (R-Northfield), makes numerous changes in laws governing child support. Neuville distributed an amendment that removed the provisions recodifying child support laws. Neuville said he wanted to distribute the proposal so that all interested parties could obtain copies and study the language. "I sincerely would like to reach a consensus on the bill, so I would like to solicit comments from all sides of the issue," Neuville said. He said the bill contains an income shares approach to determining child support. "Essentially, the bill is the Oregon model," Neuville said. An income share approach takes into consideration the incomes of each of the parties in determining child support, he said. Neuville said a hearing on the measure would take place in the coming week.

In other action, the committee, chaired by Sen. Don Betzold (DFL-Fridley), advanced two bills. S.F. 1210, sponsored by Sen. Ann Rest (DFL-New Hope), clarifies the life span and interest rate of foreign judgments, provides for the docketing and payment in United States dollars of judgments on foreign-money claims. The measure was approved and recommended for placement on the Consent Calendar. S.F. 1231, authored by Betzold, specifies that the right of an owner or tenant of residential property to display United States and Minnesota flags may not be limited by townhome or condominium association rules. The bill was advanced to the Senate floor.

Meth bills gain

The Judiciary Committee meeting Tues., Mar. 1, was devoted primarily to hearing two bills dealing with methamphetamines. Committee Chair Don Betzold (DFL-Fridley) said the two bills had extensive hearings in the Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee and that the Judiciary Committee would focus just on the issues under the panel's jurisdiction.

S.F. 901, sponsored by Sen. Wesley Skoglund (DFL-Mpls.), provides for the establishment of a tip line for citizens to report methamphetamine crimes, makes it a crime to illegally dispose of methamphetamine waste, creates a meth awareness and education account, provides for establishment of civil nuisances involving methamphetamine manufacture and requires the Legislative Audit Commission to direct the legislative auditor to conduct a study on the efficacy on various meth treatment programs for offenders. Skoglund offered an amendment specifying the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension as the agency to maintain the tip line, rather than the Dept. of Health as originally specified in the bill. The amendment was adopted.

The main items under the committee's jurisdiction were the provisions relating to landlord-tenant laws. The bill was approved and re-referred to the Finance Committee.

The second bill, S.F. 423, is sponsored by Sen. Julie Rosen (R-Fairmont). The measure increases penalties for intent to manufacture and child endangerment, establishes new meth crimes, establishes a fund for methamphetamine laboratory cleanup and contains numerous provisions relating to the treatment of property that has been used for methamphetamine manufacturing.

Committee discussion focused on provisions relating to property and to the notification of a school administrator when a child has been taken into protective custody that the child has been exposed to methamphetamine.

Sen. Thomas Neuville (R-Northfield) questioned whether the owner of property, for instance a farmer, would be liable for cleanup if someone just pulled off the road to set up a meth lab in their car. Betzold questioned whether the school administrator who had been notified could, in turn, notify the child's teacher. Neuville also questioned if unsuspecting landlords would be held responsible for cleanup of meth contaminated property.

Steve Lee, of the Pollution Control Agency, said the state's superfund law contains provisions for a defense against being held responsible if an owner has no knowledge of the illegal activity. He also described the process of cleaning up a property. In addition, Rosen said the proponents of the bill were exploring whether insurance would cover cleanup costs.

Betzold also raised the question of how long disclosure would be need for property that had been cleaned up.

Members considered an amendment that clarified the property means publicly or privately owned real property including buildings and other structures, motor vehicles, public waters, and public rights-of-way. The amendment also clarifies that a county, or local health department or sheriff must order any property or portion of a property from being occupied, rented, sold or used until it has been assessed and remediated. Susan Dioury, Minnesota Association of Realtors, explained the balance of the amendment, which also contains additional disclosure requirements and specifies language on an affidavit that must be filed describing the owner, and description and location of property used as a clandestine meth lab.

Members also focused on the potential for lawsuits by future purchasers of property against contractors who cleaned up according to guidelines in effect at the time. Lee said the PCA is developing guidelines with the Dept. of Health that would greatly reduce hazards associated with meth labs. Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove) asked exactly what the hazardous waste is. Lee said the waste includes waste solvents, waste ephedrines and other waste products. However, he said, in the cooking process vapors spread throughout the structure and permeate all surfaces.

The amendment was adopted.

Neuville offered two amendments suggested by the Real Property Section of the Minnesota Bar Association. The amendment specifies that upon filing the affidavit vacating the order and the other affidavit required by the bill, together with the information set forth in the affidavits, cease to constitute either actual or constructive notice. In addition, the amendment specifies failure to disclose does not mean that a buyer is denied ownership of the property. The second amendment clarifies that the map required to be attached to the affidavit be required in every case. Both amendments were adopted.

The bill was approved and advanced to the Jobs, Energy and Community Development Committee.

In other action, the committee also heard two additional bills. S.F. 608, authored by Betzold, corrects an error to allow the sharing of law enforcement information with the Dept. of Commerce by striking the words "insurance division" and inserting the words "Dept. of Commerce." The bill was approved and advanced to the Senate floor. S.F. 647, sponsored by Sen. Richard Cohen (DFL-St. Paul), provides for the allocation of the common expenses of older condominiums be in proportion to the area of the units. The measure was laid over for further consideration.

Data privacy bills heard

The Judiciary Subcommittee on Data Practices met Thurs., Feb. 24, to hear a variety of bills. The panel, chaired by Sen. Wesley Skoglund (DFL-Mpls.), approved the measures for inclusion in this year's omnibus data practices bill, S.F. 361. In addition, one of the bills was advanced to the full committee because it must be heard by the Finance Committee.

The measure that sparked the most discussion, S.F. 966, sets a per page fee for 300 or fewer copies of public data provided to an individual who requests the data from a public entity. Sen. Don Betzold (DFL-Fridley), chief author of the bill, said current law requires government entities to provide copies of documents for the actual cost of providing the documents. However, current law does no specify a charge for separating public from non-public data and as a result, different government entities charge differing amounts for copies.

Mark Anfinson, Minnesota Newspaper Association, spoke in support of the bill. The traditional formula has been for government agencies to charge the actual costs, but one component of the actual cost is employee time, Anfinson said. He said it became quite clear there could be widely different charges for the same documents, depending on the hourly wage of the employee doing the copying. "We support a fixed cost for small numbers of copies," Anfinson said.

Keith Carlson, executive director of the Metropolitan Inter-County Assoc., spoke in opposition to the bill. "One size does not fit all," Carlson said. He said requests for documents can entail a wide range in actual costs, depending on the nature of the request.

Betzold offered an amendment to the bill specifying that the set fee is for copies of data that is readily available and that the fee applies to each separate page. The panel adopted the amendment. Betzold also offered an amendment to set the fee at 25 cents per page. He said he set the fee at that amount for purposes of discussion as the bill progresses through the process. The second amendment was also adopted. Betzold then moved that the language of the bill be amended into the omnibus bill and that the original bill be advanced to the full committee. Betzold said another committee had asked to see the measure so he wanted the actual bill to proceed while the identical language was included in the omnibus bill. The motion was adopted.

In other action, the subcommittee approved three additional bills. S.F. 965, also carried by Betzold, specifies that the identity of applicants for appointment to state and local government boards and commissions is public data. The measure was approved for inclusion in the omnibus bill.

Betzold also sponsored a third bill. S.F. 608 provides that Dept. of Commerce law enforcement data may be shared with law enforcement agencies. The bill was approved and advanced to the full committee.

Members also considered the omnibus data practices bill, but laid the measure over in order to amend other data practices bills into the measure. S.F. 361, carried by Skoglund, began as a bill making technical corrections to the data practices laws.

Corporate law bill gains

The Judiciary Committee, chaired by Sen. Don Betzold (DFL-Fridley), advanced several bills to the Senate floor at the Tues., Feb. 22, hearing.

The panel approved a bill recodifying and modernizing the law regulating the formation, structure and operation of corporations. S.F. 767, sponsored by Sen. Geoff Michel (R-Edina), moves much of the law relating to corporations, Chap. 300, to another chapter and repeals the remaining portion. Michel said that for several years Minnesota corporations have been governed by parallel chapters and the bill is designed to update and modernize the statutes. Members adopted an amendment relating to mutual insurance companies before approving the bill and sending it to the Senate floor.

Members also approved a bill providing a penalty for drivers who leave a service station without paying for gasoline. S.F. 72, authored by Sen. William Belanger (R-Bloomington), specifies that the owner is liable to the retailer for the price of the motor fuel and a service charge of $30. The bill also specifies that additional civil penalties may be imposed if payment is not received within 30 days. In determining the additional penalty the court is to consider the amount of fuel taken and the reason, Belanger said. Finally, under the bill, the retailer is also entitled to interest and reasonable attorney fees up to $500. The bill was approved and advanced to the full Senate.

Two additional bills were also approved. S.F. 271, sponsored by Sen. Linda Berglin (DFL-Mpls.), provides that a sibling may have access to a person's death records. The measure was recommended for placement on the Consent Calendar. S.F. 1040, carried by Betzold, limits physician and nurse practitioner liability for the conduct of a former prisoner or civilly committed person that is related to the use or nonuse of medicines. The bill was approved and sent to the Senate floor.

Parenting bills okayed

Three bills relating to parental or custodial rights were the focus of the Thurs., Feb. 17, meeting of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Family Law, chaired by Sen. Thomas Neuville (R-Northfield).

S.F. 644, authored by Sen. Don Betzold (DFL-Fridley), allows parents to agree on the legal standard governing decisions about moving children, requires courts to use a best-interests-of-the-child standard when considering requests to move children out of state and prohibits modification of custody orders if custodial parents move out of state after removal petitions have been denied. Under the bill, the burden of proving that a move is in the best interests of the child falls on the parent seeking to move. Members adopted an amendment, offered by Betzold, clarifying that the burden falls on the parent opposing the move if the moving parent has been a victim of domestic abuse. Another amendment, also offered by Betzold, permits a parent to move a child without court order, but with the other parent's consent, if the other parent has been given and exercises parenting time. The amendment was adopted.

Mary Louise Klas, a former judge, spoke in opposition to the bill. She said relocating custodial families is often a necessity after a divorce. The bill imperils the well-being of children, Klas said, because a child's welfare is most dependant on the well-being of the custodial parent, not on a relationship with the noncustodial parent. Out-of-state moves harm consistent, on-going relationships with noncustodial parents, said Bruce Kennedy, a family law attorney. The bill permits reasonable moves, he said, but limits a parent's ability to move a child on a whim.

Betzold also carried S.F. 751, which changes presumptions relating to paternity. Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville) sponsored a bill, S.F. 563, prohibiting sex offenders and others with violent criminal histories from being considered for custody of a child unless the person is a parent of the child by birth or adoption.

All three measures were forwarded to the full Judiciary Committee.

Early intervention bill heard

A highlight of the Tues., Feb. 15, meeting of the Judiciary Committee, was consideration of a bill allowing for early intervention of chemically dependent pregnant women.

S.F. 643, authored by Committee Chair Don Betzold (DFL-Fridley), provides for early intervention treatment of a chemically dependent pregnant woman if the court finds that the substances the woman is using are likely to cause brain damage to her fetus. Betzold said the bill changes existing law by allowing intervention for legal substances, such as alcohol, as well as illegal substances. Dr. Carol Krush, Native American Community Clinic, said the measure does not allow wholesale intervention of anyone who is using during pregnancy, but only allows intervention under a narrow set of circumstances. Betzold said the civil commitment law is drafted very narrowly and that specific circumstances must be met before early intervention may proceed. Krush said the use of alcohol is more prevalent than many other substances and it is necessary to have the additional tool to prevent damage to the fetus.

Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville) offered an amendment providing that a court must find a substantial risk of damage to a fetus, rather than find that use will likely cause damage. Marty said unless amended, the language in the bill would be more difficult to implement. The amendment was adopted. Two additional amendments were adopted. One amendment was technical in nature. Marty offered an amendment altering the definition of chemically dependent person by specifying "excessive" use, rather than "habitual and excessive use" as a criteria. The amendment was adopted. The bill was approved and re-referred to the Health and Family Security Committee.

In other action, the panel also endorsed two additional bills. S.F. 478, carried by Betzold, is a revisor's bill that corrects erroneous, ambiguous and omitted text. Betzold said a portion of the bill also standardizes misdemeanor penalties. He said that over the years, as changes have been made to misdemeanor penalties in one section of law, other sections of law have not been updated. The measure was approved and re-referred to the Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee.

Betzold also carried the final bill, S.F. 657. The bill increases the maximum time between a commitment petition and hearing from 14 to 90 days for sexual psychopathic personalities and sexually dangerous persons. Betzold said the many pages of documentation, expert witnesses and other requirements for the hearing are difficult to assemble under the current 14 day deadline. The measure was approved and advanced to the Crime Prevention and Public Safety Committee.

Data Practices Act reviewed

The scope and application of the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act were the focus of the first meeting of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Data Practices, Thurs., Feb. 10. The panel, chaired by Sen. Wesley Skoglund (DFL-Mpls.), received an overview of the law's provisions from Laurie Beyer-Kropuenske and Katie Engler, both of the Information Policy Analysis Division of the Dept. of Administration. The law requires governments to establish policies regarding data retention, to maintain accurate data and to provide access, under specified conditions, to the general public and to individuals who are the subject of data.

Five bills gain

Members of the Judiciary Committee met Tues., Feb. 8, to consider six bills dealing with a variety of issues. The panel, chaired by Sen. Don Betzold (DFL-Fridley), approved five of the measures.

S.F. 379 permits the chief justice to assign a retired court commissioner to perform judicial duties in Ramsey County. Chief Judge Greg Johnson said the Second Judicial District, composed entirely of Ramsey County, is the only judicial district still using a court commissioner. The current commissioner has reached retirement age, he said, but the district wants to continue to use his services. Johnson said the retired commissioner could be appointed to serve another judicial function, under current law, but that service as a commissioner is the most efficient method. S.F. 379, carried by Sen. Richard Cohen (DFL-St. Paul), was recommended for placement on the Consent Calendar.

Also recommended for Consent Calendar consideration was S.F. 392, sponsored by Sen. John Hottinger (DFL-St. Peter). The bill corrects three unfortunate quirks in state probate law, said Robert McLeod of the Minnesota State Bar Association (MSBA), relating to the venue for trust proceedings, trust portfolio management restrictions and the treatment of both children omitted from wills and the omitted children's descendants.

Sen. Betsy Wergin (R-Princeton) carried S.F. 288, which the committee had previously considered. The bill exempts a debtor's interest, not exceeding $1,225, in wedding rings from collection processes. Wergin said the exemption mirrors federal bankruptcy law. Sen. Satveer Chaudhary (DFL-Fridley) noted that many traditions do not use rings as a symbol of the marital bond. After committee discussion concerning avoiding making the exemption too broad, Chaudhary offered an amendment expanding the exemption to cover other religious or culturally recognized wedding symbols. The amendment was adopted and S.F. 288 sent to the full Senate.

S.F. 391 and S.F. 393 are both recommendations from the MSBA real property section, said Sen. Thomas Neuville (R-Northfield), the bills' chief author. S.F. 391 makes mostly technical changes to laws relating to interests in real estate and residential purchase agreement cancellations. S.F. 393 modifies the Minnesota Common Interest Ownership Act. David Eide of the MSBA said the bill represents a "50,000-mile tune-up" of the act and streamlines many procedures to reflect current practice. Both bills were sent to the full Senate.

Committee members also resumed their consideration of S.F. 215, carried by Sen. Mee Moua (DFL-St. Paul). The bill was originally put forward by the Dept. of Human Rights as the department's technical bill, but several Senators raised concerns that sections were substantive in nature. After adopting amendments removing sections perceived as more than technical, committee members laid the bill over for further consideration.

Mental health court reviewed

Hennepin County's innovative mental health court was the focus of the Tues., Feb. 1, meeting of the Judiciary Committee. Chair Don Betzold (DFL-Fridley) noted that while the court deals with criminal offenders, the mental health court concept involves many cross-jurisdictional issues, including civil commitment.

County Attorney Amy Klobuchar said prosecutors, judges and public defenders noted a trend of many low-level criminal offenders cycling in and out of court. A team of interested parties, including criminal justice and human services agencies, worked together to develop the mental health court concept, she said. Mental health court saves system costs, helps defendants improve their lives and break the criminal cycle and protects public safety, Klobuchar said. She said the court is limited to non-violent offenders, usually ones accused of committing property crimes.

The mental health court's presiding judge, Richard Hopper, said the court uses a three step process: evaluating a defendant's condition, developing a plan for the defendant, with a mental health screener and a case manager, and implementing the plan. He said defendants are referred to mental health court from criminal court only after the prosecutor and defense attorney agree to the referral. The court has been operating for just over 18 months, he said, and has handled 274 cases. Hopper said interested parties are evaluating the court's results. An initial study shows a 70 percent success rate, but a long-term study is focused on finding ways to improve results, he said. Court and county officials are seeking to take the mental health court from a pilot project to a permanent institution, he said. Hopper said Hennepin County also works closely with other counties to process cases, because many mental health court defendants have histories or pending cases in other counties.

Variety of bills considered

Members of the Judiciary Committee met for the first time this year Thurs., Jan. 20, to consider a variety of bills. The panel, chaired by Sen. Don Betzold (DFL-Fridley), advanced three measures to the floor and laid over three bills for further consideration.

The first bill considered, S.F. 74, requires the Commission on Judicial Selection to make recommendations to the governor on filling Tax Court vacancies. Sen. William Belanger (R-Bloomington), the bill's chief author, said currently, the commission does not make recommendations and the governor simply makes the appointments. "It is important to get the best judges possible for the Tax Court and the commission is in the position to make the best recommendations," Belanger said. The bill was approved and sent to the full Senate.

Members also approved a bill allowing funeral providers to recover reasonable attorney fees in actions for recovery of fees. S.F. 287, sponsored by Sen. Betsy Wergin (R-Princeton), originally specified that a funeral provider who prevails in an action for recovery of fees for services is entitled to reasonable attorney fees. An amendment changing "entitled" to "may" was adopted in order to parallel other statutes pertaining to the awarding of attorney fees. The bill was advanced to the Senate floor. The third bill gaining committee approval, S.F. 327, relates to the time frame under which the commissioner of human rights must make a probable cause determination. Sen. John Marty (DFL-Roseville) said current law requires the probable cause determination to be made within 12 months after a charge is filed. The bill, though, suspends the requirement during the time another enforcement agency is investigating the case under a work sharing agreement, Marty said. The measure was sent to the full Senate.

Members also discussed three additional bills before laying the measures over for further work. S.F. 72, sponsored by Belanger, increases the service charge and civil penalty for driving away from a gas station without paying. Discussion on the bill centered on whether or not there should be a stepped level of penalties depending on the amount of gasoline taken from the station. S.F. 288, authored by Wergin, exempts wedding rings from attachment, garnishment, or sale under bankruptcy proceedings. The bill was laid over because of concerns raised by representatives of a particular type of lending institution that uses diamonds as collateral. S.F. 215, carried by Sen. Mee Moua (DFL-St. Paul), makes numerous technical changes to the Human Rights Act. The bill was laid over for further amendments.