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.

INSANE UNTIL PROVEN GUILTY:

SF 2801

Upon discovering that the man who shot his neighbor was eligible for release from a state mental hospital within six months, Sen. Doug Johnson (DFL-Tower) vowed to change the Minnesota laws governing the use of insanity as a criminal defense. Johnson wants to create a new category of guilt--"mentally ill but guilty"--which would force defendants to serve out the rest of their sentences in prison should a psychiatrist deem them "cured."

Hennepin County public defender Sergio Andrade opposes the measure. "I thought they called this double jeopardy since it would punish someone twice for the same crime," says Andrade, who also calls the bill "psychologically retroactive." He maintains that once convicts "get better," that is, understand that what they did was wrong, the provision will punish them for their psychological awakenings. "This just doesn't make any sense," says Andrade. The bill has been shelved for "further study."

ANGLING 101:

SF 2469

Sen. Janet Johnson is requesting that $100,000 go to the Department of Natural Resources for her "Becoming an Outdoors Woman" program. She says the money, along with private-sector support, would be used to fund training seminars for women in "various outdoor activities such as hunting, fishing, canoeing, and orienteering." Johnson contends that the program, currently in its third year, is particularly important to single moms living in the city. "Many of these women have never had an outdoor experience and are raising kids on their own. We teach them to fish and hunt so they, in turn, can teach their own children." Men would not be barred from participating in the seminars, notes Johnson, who adds that the bill is netting plenty of support.

SAUCE FOR

THE GOOSE:

HF 2510

Rep. Dan McElroy (R-Burnsville) has it in for bill collectors. "If cops and social workers can't use aliases, why should collection agents be allowed to do so?" he asks. McElroy's bill would require bill collectors to use their real names on the job, maintaining that this will make them more "responsible for their behavior." Collection agencies insist that pseudonyms are necessary to "protect" employees. McElroy maintains that's a ploy: "Debt collectors don't want to be called at home." Despite rumors of an early death, the bill is gaining ground and is expected to make it to the House floor.

JOINING THE RANKS OF THE STATE MUFFIN:

SF 3103;

HF 3471

In addition to the state mushroom (the morel, named in 1984), the state grain (wild rice, 1977) and the state muffin (blueberry, 1988), Sen. J. B. Johnson (DFL-Bemidji) and Rep. Willard Munger (DFL-Duluth) want to designate a state amphibian and state reptile. The two lawmakers have nominated the northern leopard frog and the blanding's turtle for the honorary posts. One caveat, however: The frog selected for the official portrait has to be "undeformed." The bill is leaping forward.

EVERY PARTY HAS A POOPER:

HF 3003;

SF 3045

Thanks to Sen. Sheila Kiscaden (R-Rochester) and Rep. Ken Wolf (R-Burnsville), the Minnesota Legislature may permanently repeal the ban that has historically prohibited schools from starting before Labor Day. Although the proposal wouldn't take effect until the 2000-2001 school year, it faces strenuous opposition from the hospitality industry, which maintains that the measure will effectively kill summer's last official holiday. The provision has been folded into the K-12 education bill.

A LITTLE MOLD NEVER HURT

ANYONE:

HF 176

A proposal by Rep. Elaine Harder (R-Jackson) would limit liability for injury related to certain food donations. Harder says the impetus for the bill came from a Redwood County commissioner who doubles as a grocer. "He wanted to see the food that had expired but was unspoiled go to the county jail rather than the dumpster," she explains. Should Harder's provision pass, she says, other city, county, and regional agencies could receive these kinds of donations. The bill should land on the House floor soon.

AND JUST IN CASE:

SF 2495

Sen. Dave Kleis (R-St.Cloud) is advancing an amendment requiring autopsies in all unattended inmate deaths in state correctional facilities. Last check, the bill is still alive.

WATCH OUT,

BULLWINKLE:

HF 2375

Ten-time losers in a lottery for a Minnesota moose-hunting license will face better odds if Rep. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm) has his way. His bill, which calls for 5 percent of the moose-hunting licenses issued each year to come from a pool of perennially frustrated Elmer Fudds, has been tucked into the omnibus crime bill.

IS THAT A SNAPPING TURTLE IN YOUR POCKET OR ARE

YOU JUST HAPPY TO SEE ME?:

HF 2724

This piece of legislation, sponsored by Rep. Bob Milbert (DFL-St. Paul), should lay to rest the age-old mystery of who is and isn't legally entitled to transport turtles in Minnesota. It reads, in part: "A person may not take, possess, transport, or purchase turtles for sale without a turtle-seller's license, except... when buying turtles for retail sale at a location licensed by the departments of Agriculture or Health for sale or preparation of good[s]; when buying at [a] retail outlet; or when a nonresident buys turtles from licensed turtle-sellers for export out-of-state." We'll all sleep better at night once this passes.

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