I'm Just a Bill...

In the month left before sine die, Minnesota lawmakers must decide what to do about the stadium, the budget surplus, and that nagging turtle-trafficking issue.

To judge from recent headlines, it would be easy to assume that during the vast majority of the 1998 legislative session, Minnesota lawmakers have been consumed by such weighty topics as the ongoing debate over a new Twins stadium and the fate of the state's projected budget surplus. But in fact, by mid-April, the state Senate will have considered an unprecedented 3,400 bills; 3,828 will wend their way through the House. At best 300 will become law. But before the rest go into the recycling bin, there are a few that deserve a bit of limelight:

THE HENNY PENNY BILL:

SENATE FILE 2423;

HF 2730

Riding on the wave of hysteria engendered by the world's first cloned sheep, "Dolly," Sen. Kenric Scheeval (R-Preston) and Rep. Gregory Davids (R-Preston) want to make it unlawful for anyone to engage in human cloning. According to University of Minnesota bioethicist Steve Miles, not only is the proposal redundant (federal law already prohibits this), it's idiotic as well. "The technique for cloning a human being is only being proposed by one lunatic on the South Side of Chicago. Why are Minnesota legislators running around acting like the sky is falling?" And even if the technology were available, adds Miles, few could afford it. "It took 300 tries at $1,500 a pop to produce Dolly," he says. "Someone would have to be really wealthy and really stupid to even consider trying." This bill didn't make it past the embryonic stage.

THE OUT-OF-SHAPE-PRISON-GUARDS PROVISION:

HOUSE FILE 3586

When smoking was outlawed in Minnesota's correctional facilities last August, legislators maintained it was for the health of the inmates. Now, however, it appears that staffers fear prisoners may be getting a little too healthy. Rep. Satveer Chaudhary (DFL-Fridley) wants to prohibit bodybuilding and bar weightlifting equipment from Minnesota jails and prisons. "These are prisons, not health clubs," he testified during a hearing on the bill. To assuage inmates' fears of developing love handles, Chaudhary's provision provides for the use of "videocassette recorders and aerobic videos."

But according to one of the bill's critics, the real reason behind the measure is that "iron-pumping prisoners pose a threat to (presumably) out-of-shape guards." "And now that we've banned smoking in Minnesota jails, and are proposing to ban weightlifting," postulates one online commentator, "are there any other activities we could ban that would make prisoners even more aggressive?" Yes, but inmates are hoping that guards will remain ignorant of the real allure of fitness videos like Buns of Steel. Chaudhary's proposal is still in the Judiciary Committee.

CRACK THAT WHIP:

HF 2597

Legislation introduced by Rep. Wes Skoglund (DFL-Minneapolis) would make it a felony to commit indecent exposure in public while confining or restraining another person. Skoglund says the measure arose from an incident at a suburban shopping-center parking lot when some "sicko" trapped a woman and her 2-year-old daughter between parked cars. "He exposed himself, masturbated, and ejaculated into her hair and face," he says. Since there wasn't any physical contact, Skoglund maintains that the man couldn't be charged with sexual assault. "He was charged only with a fifth-degree misdemeanor," he adds with disgust.

While local musician/performance artist Matt Batchelor says he's similarly sickened by the offender's behavior, he nonetheless objects to the bill on the grounds that the language is "overbroad." "My girlfriend and I do a bondage-discipline show at the Saloon," he says, "and the way this bill is written, we could be arrested." While neither he nor his partner, Mistress Phaylen, are completely nude during their performance, he fears the measure endangers free speech. "We do this from an artistic point of view," he says, "and this [proposal] tramples on our constitutional rights."

Nonsense, says Skoglund. The current law simply "doesn't reflect the degree of revulsion [the victim] felt." This provision has been added to the House omnibus crime bill.

EXTRACURRICULAR PENALTIES:

SF 2087

Prostitutes caught trolling for customers in and around schoolyards may soon face additional penalties if Sen. Linda Berglin (DFL-Minneapolis) has anything to do with it. While the proposal may seem a bit redundant, Minneapolis Police Lt. Chris Hildreth says the bill will help police and parents alike in certain neighborhoods. "The bill is intended for school bus stops," says Hildreth, who claims that the corridor along Lake and 29th streets, extending east from 10th Street to Cedar Avenue, is "thick with hookers." "You have young kids standing there waiting for the school bus," he says. "It's scary for parents, especially since hookers are heavy narcotics users, and where you find prostitutes, you also find drug dealers." Berglin's bill, which has been granted preliminary passage and is heading to the Senate floor, also increases penalties for soliciting in parks.

BUMMER, DUDE:

HF 2276

Under a proposal by Rep. Len Biernat (DFL-Minneapolis), students who fail one or more of the basic-skills tests under graduation rules can be forced by their school district to attend summer school. Much to the dismay of area students, the bill has been folded into the omnibus K-12 educational-policy and supplemental-funding bill and is advancing without any notable opposition.

THE BUCK STOPS...ELSEWHERE:

SF 1378

In 1996, Pioneer Press reporters David Shaffer and Dan Browning asked to look at the appointment books of a couple of Ramsey County employees in connection with a story they were investigating. But they were denied access, says Sen. Don Betzold (DFL-Fridley), ostensibly because the calendars contained personal notes as well as work-related appointments. Betzold's provision would have designated as public information calendars used by public employees to track their working hours. But for the time being, the proposal has stalled out. "I had to pull it out of the Senate bill because we didn't have time to hear all of the public testimony and debate," says Betzold. He says he'll resurrect the measure next session.

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