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Legislation could sock counties for long-term sex offender costs

WILLMAR -- Potential legislation that would saddle counties with the long-term costs of civilly committed sex offenders could cost local taxpayers millions of dollars.

"We've got to scream and we've got to scream loud," said Kandiyohi County Family Services Director Jay Kieft.

During a report Tuesday to the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners, Kieft said there's legislative language floating around that would make counties financially responsible for sex offenders, including those committed by the state "and never released."

Currently, counties pay 10 percent of the cost for sex offenders who are from their county and committed to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program in a civil court proceeding.

Kieft said Kandiyohi County currently has seven sex offenders in the program and pays about $70,000 a year.

According to the Association of Minnesota Counties, it costs $320 a day for each person committed to the program.

If the financial burden is shifted to counties, just one of the seven individuals from Kandiyohi County could be a "multimillion-dollar case," Kieft said.

Even though legislation with the language has not yet been introduced, counties are taking action.

County Administrator Larry Kleindl said in response to a legislative update from the Association of Minnesota Counties warning about the potential legislation, Kandiyohi County officials began calling legislators to lobby against the cost shift.

The association update said the potential provision to the Health and Human Services omnibus budget bill would cap the state's payment for the sex offender program at its current level. The total cost for future offenders would be paid by counties from local property taxes.

Those in the offender program have served their prison time and have been civilly committed in a court proceeding. If the court finds an individual to be either a "sexual psychopathic personality" or a "sexually dangerous person," the individual is committed to the Minnesota Sex Offender Program operated by the state Department of Human Services.

According to the Association of Minnesota Counties, since the Dru Sjodin murder case in 2003, "more sex offenders have been civilly committed and none have been released from commitment."

The thought of counties carrying those costs into the future is "unreal," said Kleindl.


Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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