Hennepin County Attorney Mary Moriarty said her office lobbied for nearly 30 bills this session in a sweeping public safety package aimed at reforming the criminal justice system.
"The scope of what we have accomplished together is breathtaking," she said.
At a town hall event this week at the Northeast Recreation Center in Minneapolis, Moriarty highlighted the historic progress joined by a panel of DFL lawmakers and advocates. Rep. Cedrick Frazier, D-New Hope, who door-knocked for Moriarty after deciding not to run for county attorney himself, said some bills were a decade in the making. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2012 that sentencing kids to life without parole was unconstitutional, for example, but it wasn't banned in Minnesota until now. This session also prohibited unnecessary strip searches and solitary confinement of youth.
Much of the town hall focus was on juvenile justice given the alarming nationwide trend of kids fleeing police in stolen Kias and Hyundais. Moriarty said the funding for prevention and intervention passed by the Legislature is needed now more than ever. A 12-year-old boy in juvenile detention is being sent to Utah because there is no placement here, she said, but Ramsey County received $5 million this session for juvenile treatment facilities.
"I feel very optimistic about the types of successes and services we're going to be able to offer, and we still have these tremendous gaps that we need filled," she said.
The Legislature dedicated $35 million to juvenile justice efforts and more than $113 million to fight violent crime; $43 million is going toward the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) to support investigations; the Office of Justice Programs is receiving $70 million for community-based crime prevention program grants; another $87 million in the public safety bill will help ensure evidence-based practices, improve community supervision systems and fund tribal governments.
While panelists celebrated a slew of high-profile measures such as legalizing cannabis, restoring felon voting rights, restricting no-knock warrants, limiting aiding and abetting murder charges, making jail calls free, shortening prison sentences, expanding gun background checks and enacting red flag laws, some initiatives fell short.
Artika Roller, the executive director of Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said a measure to mandate a 90-day turnaround for sexual assault exam kits didn't pass, but language was adopted so labs strive to meet that deadline or report when they don't.
She said there is testing backlog with a wait time up to eight months, meaning a new kit won't be tested until winter.
Roller referenced the 1,700 untested rape kits revealed in a 2019 review of the Minneapolis Police Department.
Hennepin County Sheriff's Office spokesperson Kelsey Demmert told the Star Tribune that its forensic science lab has a backlog of 19 kits as it currently works on 11 others.
Moriarty testified at the Capitol in support of victim-survivors not having to pay for their exams, among many other measures. "No victim should get a bill for their sexual assault exam. Period."
Sen. Bonnie Westlin, D-Plymouth, an attorney and freshman lawmaker focused on gun reform, joined the panel, as well as Malaika Eban, executive director of the Legal Rights Center.
Eban said families are told they have to wait for youth to commit a crime before they can access county services. She said with this "revolutionary" funding, new and expanded community-based services can help young people at the first sight of trouble.
"What the Legislature was able to do this year was recognize that young people are different," Eban said, adding that such action says to youth: "We're not going to give up on you as a community when you make a mistake. We're going to invest in you so that hopefully you will make different choices later."
Moriarty said she is working with law enforcement, child protection and youth prosecution to intervene early and often. Seems straight forward, but she said traditionally these systems can't legally speak to each other and share confidential information about a child. A collaboration like this is new for the county, she said, and serves as an alternative to the delinquency system.
Beyond fixing a broken juvenile justice system, Moriarty said the state did even more to protect vulnerable populations. Minnesota established the Office of Missing and Murdered Black Women and Girls. It strengthened abortion rights and access to gender-related medical care.
"Transformational legislation is really rare when you take a look at the history of our state here," Moriarty said. "It can only occur with a movement full of dedicated people committed to making sure that bills pass that improve lives."