Candidates’ favorites sure to make way back into state’s crime debate

ST. PAUL (AP) — In an election-year attack, lawmakers will take aim at juveniles and drunken drivers and consider whether convicts are receiving sentences to fit their crimes.
Overall state crime rates are dropping, but next fall all 134 seats in the Minnesota House are up for election. Some lawmakers also are running for statewide offices and crime bills make for good campaign issues.
In the House, DFLers want to review whether judges are imposing strict enough sentences on juvenile offenders. Judiciary Committee Chairman Wes Skoglund, DFL-Minneapolis, said judges may not be classifying repeat juvenile offenders as adults, as a new law allows.
“If the word on the street to kids is, ‘Go ahead and steal another car because nothing is going to happen to you,’ that’s what they’re going to do,” he said.
House Republicans want to open juvenile criminal proceedings for those older than 14. Proceedings now aren’t open until the defendant is 16.
“We’re talking about kids who have committed serious, in many cases violent, felonies and yet are protected under the state’s data privacy law,” said Rep. Charlie Weaver, R-Anoka. “Yes, they’re juveniles, but they’re criminals.”
The Legislature also likely will reconsider a bill to lower the legal blood alcohol threshold for drunken driving to 0.08 percent from 0.10 percent. The proposal passed the House last year, but never came out of a conference committee.
One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Matt Entenza, DFL-St. Paul, said election year politics may push the proposal to passage.
“In a choice between voters or the liquor industry, there are a lot more voters than there are liquor distributors,” Entenza said.
On criminal sentencing, both parties and DFL Attorney General Hubert H. Humphrey III want judges to hand out tougher sentences for repeat and violent offenders. Last year, Minnesota had the lowest incarceration rate in the country.
House Speaker Phil Carruthers said he expects much of the tougher sentencing legislation to pass.
“In the House, we’re conservative on crime. We want to see that the laws be enforced and that the sentences on the books be followed, so I think there will be pretty good bipartisan support for these types of efforts,” said Carruthers, DFL-Brooklyn Center.
In addition, the Department of Corrections has asked for $20 million in this year’s bonding bill to expand and renovate prisons. Gov. Arne Carlson said the state should spend $17.8 million.
Carlson also wants to borrow $12 million to establish three boarding schools. Attendance at the schools, which could be open as early as next fall, would be voluntary. The proposal aims to help teen-agers who are not delinquent, but need a safe place away from home.
Humphrey, who is running for governor, also wants tougher penalties for those who sell, possess and make methamphethamine, a synthetically produced crystal form of speed.