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Courts gets steady funding, but not public safety, in Senate bill

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Courts gets steady funding, but not public safety, in Senate bill
Willmar Minnesota 2208 Trott Ave. SW / P.O. Box 839 56201

ST. PAUL -- Senators approved a spending bill Tuesday that keeps money flowing to the courts while making cuts that could slow some crime investigations.

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The Republican-written measure would spend $1.8 billion in the next two years, $60 million less than current budget and $29 million below a plan from Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton. The bill passed 36-28 with Democrats lining up against it.

The courts maintain most funding under the bill offered by Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, who leads the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. But Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said public safety cuts such as one taking $1 million from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension could slow police work and a provision chopping the Human Rights Department budget in half would affect the state's effort to stop discrimination.

Limmer's bill cuts less than most budget bills now making their way through the Legislature.

The measure gives a 2.4 percent increase to state public defenders, who have sustained cuts in the recent past.

Funding for poor Minnesotans involved in civil court fights is cut 6.4 percent, $1.5 million.

Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said the cut was included because there is no constitutional requirement to provide legal help in civil cases, while there is in criminal cases.

The biggest cut, by percent, is the $3.3 million for the Human Rights Department, down from $6.7 million in the current budget.

"What a terrible message," Latz said.

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said no other state agency is looking at a 50 percent budget cut.

Newman was critical of the department. Ninety percent of claims the department helps file are dismissed, he said.

"It is an advocacy group," he said of the department.

Democrats complained that a Corrections Department cut means 31 probation officers would not be funded, and local governments may be forced to find their own money to do the work.

Reducing Bureau of Criminal Apprehension spending by $1 million could slow laboratory operations it conducts for police officers statewide, as well as forcing elimination of a program designed to protect children from online solicitation, Democrats said.

Democratic-Farmer-Laborites offered amendments to increase fees to maintain funding in several areas, but Republicans who control the Senate defeated the efforts.

The House plans to debate a similar bill in the next few days.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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