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Partisan sniping stalls changes to sex offender treatment program

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Despite pressure from a federal judge, the Legislature is unlikely to approve any changes to Minnesota's sex offender treatment program during the current session. Legislative leaders blamed each other Friday for the lack of progress on the issue, the Associated Press reports. The two parties have not met on the subject in a month.

U.S. District Judge Donovan Frank warned in February that the program could be ruled unconstitutional, and he urged the Legislature at that time to make changes.

“If the evidence requires it, the court will act,” Frank wrote. “But it is the Minnesota Legislature that is best equipped to develop policies and pass laws — within the limits of the Constitution — that both protect public safety and preserve the rights of the class," according to the Forum News Service.

"We've seen nothing from House Republicans," said House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis on Friday, according to the Associated Press.

Democrats were "elected to lead," and they haven't offered any more amenable proposals, countered Minority House Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown.

Frank is the judge hearing a lawsuit brought by patients in the program, who argue that they live like prisoners even though they have finished their prison terms, according to the Associated Press. He's appointed a panel of experts to evaluate the program, and if the panel supports the plaintiffs' claims, Frank could order the courts to take control of the program.

"I don't think we're getting to that point," Daudt said. He said he believes the program is constitutional, although he would support some changes to it, according to the Associated Press.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said the program has enough problems that fixing them in a single session is unlikely.

Since Democrats control the House, Senate and governor’s office, Daudt said, they are the ones who should lead on the issue.

Dayton blamed House Republicans for the stalemate, adding, “I don’t think anything else is going to happen this session," according to the Forum News Service.

“It is not going to proceed without broad bipartisan support,” Dayton told reporters Thursday. “It is just not going to happen now. ... We will come back next session, if I am still around.”

However, he added, Judge Frank could take away Minnesota’s options before next year.

In the class-action lawsuit before Frank, hundreds of sex offenders have accused the state of violating their constitutional rights by locking them away indefinitely at high-security treatment centers in Moose Lake and St. Peter. The debate revolves around whether the program provides offenders actual treatment, or simply punishes them even after they have completed their prison terms, the Star Tribune reported.

Former Minnesota Chief Justice Eric Magnuson and others are urging lawmakers to act, saying Frank could order changes in the program — changes that could result in much higher costs to the state — or he could order the release of at least some sex offenders.

Minnesota has about 700 patients in the program, and only two have been released during the program's two decades of existence.

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