Bill strengthening sex offender notification law has bipartisan support

Legislators will hold a special meeting today in hopes of closing a loophole in the state's sex offender notification law.

Current law mandates that communities are informed when offenders leave prison. But there is no notification requirement when offenders leave state hospitals for halfway houses, as will be the case when Clarence Opheim leaves a state hospital in St. Peter and moves to a halfway house in St. Paul sometime before the month is through.

Opheim, 64, will be the first patient released from the Minnesota State Offender Program in more than a decade, and Republicans, in particular, are worried he might reoffend. Closing the loophole and notifying St. Paul neighbors of Opheim's presence will hopefully increase neighborhood awareness.

According to MPR, Opheim has confessed to 100 criminal sexual acts committed against dozens of boys as young as 8. He would gain the trust of children in his northeast Minneapolis neighborhood by offering them candy and pop. Opheim completed a prison sentence, but judges found him too dangerous to release and committed him to the state offender program, where he's spent nearly 20 years undergoing voluntary treatment.

On February 12, a three-judge panel granted Opheim's request for provisional discharge from the program. He'll soon move to a halfway house in St. Paul where he'll be monitored with a GPS tracking device and be under under constant surveillance.

Shortly after the judges granted Opheim's request, GOP House Majority Leader Matt Dean questioned whether Gov. Dayton should step in and prevent Opheim's relocation to the halfway house. "This is not a person that if they were to reoffend, that we would look back on and say, 'Boy, no one saw any warning signs,'" Dean said.

Dayton, however, says he's legally obligated to comply with the judges' ruling. In a recent letter to Dean and other House GOP leaders, Dayton wrote that "Under current state law, if someone is determined to have completed treatment and can be carefully supervised in a setting outside of an institution, he cannot be kept there for the rest of his life."

Legislators hope to strengthen the notification law before Opheim moves to St. Paul, which could happen as soon as this weekend. A two-thirds vote is required to fast-track a bill. Minority Leader Paul Thissen told the Star Tribune that DFLers won't oppose the measure.

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