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State considers changes in sex offender laws

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State considers changes in sex offender laws
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

ST. PAUL - Repercussions continue five years after Dru Sjodin was kidnapped and killed by a sex offender released from prison months earlier.

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The 2008 Minnesota Legislature still is tweaking sex offender-related laws, like it has since 2003.

Bills advancing this year include those to reduce counties' costs, help track sex offenders after they get out of prison and add to what constitutes a sex crime.

The most controversial may be a proposal by Representative Dave Olin, DFL-Thief River Falls, to make it a crime to deposit semen on an unwilling victim.

Douglas County Attorney Chris Karpan said he wished the bill would have been law last year, when he was forced to file a lesser charge than he wanted because existing law does not consider the offense a serious crime.

Karpan said a Douglas County man was with two 14-year-old girls when he masturbated, depositing semen on one of them.

The only option he had available was a gross misdemeanor charge of indecent exposure.

"What he did was much worse for her," Karpan said.

Added Assistant Goodhue County Attorney Erin Kuester: "Could there be anything more offensive on a child's body?"

The situation probably would not happen often, Olin said. In fact, in his long tenure as Pennington County attorney he never would have a need for such a law, he added. The crime would be a felony.

Kuester said five states have such a law.

DFL Representative John Lesch said as a St. Paul prosecutor he has doubts about the Olin bill, calling for more work before it passes.

Olin's proposal was one of several heard Tuesday by the House Public Safety and Civil Justice Committee. All received approval, but some need to be heard by other committees before receiving a full House vote.

Among the issues debated was one directly connected to the Sjodin case. Soon after Alfonso Rodriguez Jr. of Crookston was arrested in the kidnapping, the state Corrections Department dramatically increased the number of sex offenders it recommended putting in state hospitals after they complete their sentences.

The state is adding 400 beds to the Moose Lake State Hospital for sex offender treatment, a reaction to increased commitments. Keith Carlson, executive director of the Minnesota Intercounty Association, predicted another 400 beds will be needed soon as an ever-increasing number of sex offenders are sent to hospitals.

Carlson said a handful of sex offenders were committed to hospitals a year before 2003, but more than 200 have been hospitalized in some recent years. Generally, sex offenders who are hospitalized never are released, so the state and counties often must pay until they die.

Counties pay much of the cost related to committing a sex offender and continue to pay a portion each year the person remained hospitalized. Olin said a sex offender he prosecuted in the 1980s, soon after he became Pennington County attorney, remains in a state hospital at a county cost in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Carlson said counties' commitment-related costs have risen more than 11-fold since the Sjodin case began.

A bill is advancing to lower some of those county costs. It would allow some sex offenders to remain in prison while courts are deciding whether they should be indefinitely committed.

That proposal would dramatically reduce counties' costs. A state hospital costs nearly $370 a day, while costs in prisons are a fraction of that, Carlson said.

Representative Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, proposes a measure to make it easier to track some sex offenders after they are released from prison.

Current law contains a loophole allowing a prisoner who expects to be homeless after release to avoid telling state officials where he will live. State law requires the most dangerous sex offenders to provide updates about where they live so area residents can be notified.

Bigham's bill would require a sex offender to tell authorities, before he is released, in what community he expects to live.

Annmarie Oneill of the Public Safety Department said the need to change the law arose recently when a prisoner refused to let her department know where he would live.

"Obviously, that was a grave concern," she said.

Bigham's bill also would clarify that a sex offender from another state needs to follow Minnesota law, even if he has fulfilled all requirements of the other state.

A bill by Representative Joe Mullery, DFL-Minneapolis, would clarify the sex crime statute of limitations after a judge in a Stevens County case said it is not clear. The law is supposed to allow a sex crime suspect to be charged up to nine years after the incident or three years after it is reported, whichever is later.

Stevens County Attorney Charles Glasrud said he ran into that problem, and the judge appeared to be suggesting that the Legislature change the existing law's wording.

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