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KSTP: AG has authority to crack down on illegal activity by sheriffs

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Controversial safe driving courses deemed illegal by state officials continue to be offered by several sheriff's departments across Minnesota, but now an attorney for KSTP claims Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson has the authority to shut down the practice and hasn't.

Sheriff's deputies in at least 14 rural Minnesota counties offer the courses as a less-expensive alternative to receiving a ticket for a minor traffic violation such as speeding. KSTP says in some cases, 100 percent of funds collected from course participants go back into the pockets of the sheriffs' offices instead of a portion going to the state.

The Rochester Post Bulletin says in 2009, both Swanson and Minnesota State Auditor Rebecca Otto said the programs violate the administrative citation statute.

Swanson has been calling for a court determination since 2003, the newspaper said.

An analysis by attorney Mark Anfinson, a legal consultant for KSTP, says the state Supreme Court has consistently found the attorney general's authority to be broad and there's "little doubt that if the Attorney General wanted to crack down on the county diversion programs, she has ample legal authority by which to do so."

A four-person group called the Association for Government Accountability filed a lawsuit in August claiming Wabasha County Sheriff Rodney Bartsh who runs a diversion program is "intentionally ignoring state law" by offering the courses, the newspaper said.

The sheriffs' offices claim the law is unclear.

State Sen. Matt Schmit, DFL-Red Wing, and state Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, plan to introduce new legislation next session to settle the controversy after previous attempts to clarify the law in the Legislature have been unsuccessful.

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