By Heather J. Carlson
A task force charged with reviewing the state's civil commitment program for sex offenders is taking a closer look at how offenders get put in the program in the first place.
The Sex Offender Civil Commitment Advisory Task Force meets today to discuss possible changes to the criteria for committing a sex offender. Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, serves on the task force. She said there have long been concerns that the current criteria lacks specifics.
"They are very vague. That means that you get this big variation across the state in who gets committed, and that is a huge issue," she said.
The work comes after lawmakers failed to pass a bill based on recommendations from the task force that would have created alternative, less restrictive options for housing civilly committed sex offenders. The bill, sponsored by Liebling, stalled in the House after failing to win Republican support. The push to pass the legislation comes amid concerns that a federal judge could rule the current program unconstitutional. That could lead to costly, mandated changes to the system imposed by the courts or, in the worst-case scenario, an order to shut it down and release all the patients.
Liebling said that whether or not she decides to try to pass that bill again next session will depend a lot on what happens with the court in the interim.
"A lot of people are really worried that the court is going to act and that we won't have any choice, and I sure hope that doesn't happen. If it doesn't happen, I'll be right back with this bill," she said.