A Minnesota lawmaker plans to introduce legislation that would reverse the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission’s recent decision to cap probation for most felonies at five years.
The commission approved a five-year cap on felony probation sentences in an 8-3 vote Thursday night. The measure will take effect on August 1 unless the Legislature intervenes. The new cap on probation terms will apply to all felons except for those convicted of felony homicide or sex offenses.
State Rep. Jamie Long (DFL-Minneapolis), who introduced legislation last session to cap probation terms at five years, applauded the move in a Thursday statement.
“Today, Commissioner Schnell and the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission took meaningful action to make Minnesota’s probation system more just and effective,” he said. “Minnesota’s probation system is failing basic tests of fairness. Sentences for the same charges vary widely due to geographic and racial disparities, and far too many Minnesotans receive excessive probation terms that bar them from voting, traveling, and participating in community life for decades.”
States such as Missouri and Iowa have similar caps on probation, but Rep. Brian Johnson (R-Cambridge) called the vote a “major overreach” since the commission does not “have the authority to make such dramatic changes to probation sentences.”
“It is the role of the Legislature and judiciary—not an unelected group of 11 people—to determine appropriate probation terms for heinous crimes, including sex trafficking, domestic assault, and aggravated robbery,” he said in a statement. “I plan to introduce legislation to reverse this administrative decision and ensure that the entire Legislature can weigh in and determine whether this policy is one the courts should follow.”
Republican lawmakers previously accused the Sentencing Guidelines Commission of violating the state’s open-meeting law by forcing a vote on a proposal that was only listed as a discussion item. The public agenda for the commission’s November 6 meeting described the measure as “Probation—Next Steps (Discussion Item).”
“The proposal had not been posted online, and there had been no public notice that the commission would take action on the agenda item,” Johnson’s office said in a press release.
His office said there are “major questions” about whether the Sentencing Guidelines Commission “even has the authority to mandate caps on probation lengths.” According to Johnson, there is no “previous precedent for the commission making these changes.”
“The Attorney General’s Office recognized this overreach of authority and the revised proposal makes the cap presumptive. There are still legal issues with the revised language, which the judicial members of the commission pointed out during debate,” Johnson’s office noted.
The only option for Republicans is to introduce a bill to reverse the cap’s implementation, which would require the signature of Democratic Gov. Tim Walz. Sen. Warren Limmer (R-Maple Grove), chair of the Senate Public Safety Committee, previously said the Senate would take up legislation in response to the measure, calling it an “end-run around the Legislature” and “improper.”
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of The Minnesota Sun and The Ohio Star. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Background Photo “Minnesota House of Representative Chamber” by Chris Gaukel. CC BY-SA 2.0.