Lawmakers approve universal background checks, red flag provisions for Minnesota

A wide-ranging bill that sets budgets for Minnesota's courts and public safety systems approved on Wednesday includes contentious provisions that add universal background checks on gun purchases, and red flag law provisions, which allow family members to petition the removal of firearms from a person.

The legislation, also known as H.F. 2890/S.F. 2909, sponsored by Rep. Kelly Moller (DFL-Shoreview), has provisions and language from several bills, including the omnibus judiciary finance bill, and omnibus public safety finance and policy bill. It was approved Wednesday afternoon on a 69-60 vote.

"This is a historic investment in the long-term care and safety of all Minnesotans," said Rep. Mohamud Noor (DFL-Minneapolis).

After hours of discussion Tuesday night, the bill was tabled as the House adjourned before midnight due to rules that govern when debate ends for the safety of members. Several hours of debate followed on Wednesday.

With back-and-forth oftentimes contentious throughout discussion of proposed amendments to the legislation, DFL members said the proposals in total were about increasing public safety for all, while GOP members contented several provisions they felt violated both due process and the constitution.

"These are both controversial and consequential bills for the state of Minnesota, and will probably highlight the Democrats’ misplaced priorities," said Rep. Lisa Demuth (R-Cold Spring), also the House Minority Leader, prior to debate. "As our Senate colleagues coined it, this bill is the ‘get out of jail free card’ for criminals with historic rates of violent crime right now in our state. Putting criminals over the safety of Minnesotans is a horrible policy that can’t be explained."

Republican members ultimately failed to remove language from the legislation to limit the universal background checks and red flag law provisions, as well as, the prohibition of no-knock warrants unless specific circumstances — a talking point this session following the death of Amir Locke in Minneapolis

An amendment passed provides that a "court may not issue or approve a no-knock search warrant unless the judge concludes that the dwelling will be occupied at all times, and the occupant or occupants of the dwelling will present an immediate threat of death or injury to the officers executing the warrant if the officers announce their presence or purpose prior to entering the dwelling."

However, it's not clear yet whether the measures will make it to the governor's desk.

Its companion bill passed the Senate by a vote of 34-33 on April 14, along party lines, with the DFL edging the slim majority after taking control in the last election.

Before packaged legislation can go to the desk of Gov. Tim Walz to be signed into law, a conference committee of three to five members from both the Minnesota House and Senate will convene to iron out the difference between each — often seen as an act of compromise.

Currently, the Senate version does not contain the two gun-control provisions that are in the House bill.

Retail theft, rape kit testing, women missing

Several sections in the bill seek to either bolster or clarify current public safety measures, including adding new laws and agency requirement. 
If passed, the bill could also:

  • Make illegal the distribution of Deep Fakes in Minnesota;
  • Establish a state fraud unit within the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) to conduct investigations into fraud involving state-funded programs or services, and require a report to the Legislature and governor every two years;
  • Require all accredited forensic laboratories to test sexual assault examination kits within 90 days of receipt from a hospital or law enforcement agency, and to update the kit-tracking database upon completion. If the lab does not meet the 90-day deadline, it must notify the submitting agency and provide an estimated time frame for testing completion;
  • Establish the crime of "organized retail theft," which occurs when a person acts as a participant of an organized theft enterprise to steal or fraudulently obtain retail merchandise from a retailer with the intent to resell it. Penalties for the new crime would range from a gross misdemeanor to a two-, seven-, or 15-year felony sentences, depending on the value of the property stolen and whether the offender has violated the crime in the past.
  • Establish the Office for Missing and Murdered Black Women and Girls, which is "dedicated to preventing and ending the targeting of violence against Black women and girls within the Office of Justice Programs."
  • Provide a process to allow certain individuals to be released from prison early, or to have their active supervised release term shortened. It would establish a policy providing for earned incentive release credit (EIRC) for prison inmates, including allowing participation in community programming outside of prison to receive credit allowed for people on supervised release. It would ultimately allow for a maximum reduction of 17 percent of an inmate’s total executed sentence – not just term of imprisonment – up to a maximum of half a total executed sentence.
  • Establish the Clean Slate Act, which provides an automatic expungement process for certain non-violent offenses, and removes the current requirement that expungements be reviewed and approved by a prosecutor and go through a court process.