Political Chatter: Minnesota Looks To Cut Drug Sentences

State officials are looking into reducing some drug sentences and whether the action could help relieve prison overcrowding.

Drawing from available data, Executive Director Nathaniel Reitz of the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission said that “probation may be something that may not harm public safety.”

Hours after Reitz told that to a prison overcrowding task force, his commission started in motion a plan that could allow some drug offenders be on probation instead of in prison and could reduce prison sentences for others.

The number of prisoners held on drug crimes peaked in 2005, dropped through 2008 and is rising again. For years, he said, prison populations have grown much quicker than overall populations.

Reitz said that 2005 was the peak of the methamphetamine boom. Still, he said, 64 percent of prisoners had some meth connection.

The task force is looking into how to deal with a prison system that is nearly 600 inmates overcapacity, and growing rapidly.

Reducing sentences is one potential way to help, but increasing space is another. Some legislators favor leasing a private Appleton prison to provide more space, while the state corrections commissioner is preparing a plan to build more prison space.

Lawmakers are divided over whether prison sentences should be shortened. Some even would increase sentences, including for drug offenders.

The Sentencing Guidelines Commission backed cuts in the amount of time many drug offenders would spend in prison, similar to what other states have done in recent years. The effort to cut or eliminate prison time will go to a public hearing and final commission vote. The Legislature can stop the changes when it meets next year.

Emmer wants war declaration

A freshmen Minnesota congressman wants the United States to declare war on the Islamic state.

“The Islamic State has declared war against America and now we have an obligation to act,” Rep. Tom Emmer said. “The wolf of tyranny is at our doorstep and now is the time to euthanize this evil before it enters America’s home.”

The Minnesota Republican said Congress should take action to give President Barack Obama more power to use the country’s military and diplomatic tools.

“It is time that we speak with one voice and unite as a country against the Islamic State,” Emmer said in the days following the group’s attacks on Paris.

While Congress has authorized the use of military overseas in recent years, this would be the first time a war declaration has been enacted since 1941.

Emmer’s resolution was assigned to a committee, which will debate whether the full House should vote on it.

U of M seeks input

University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler has led school officials on a greater Minnesota tour over the last four months, a combination of seeking input and selling the university’s broad impact.

“In meeting with students, legislators, alumni and community leaders, I learned first-hand what the most pressing issues of their communities are,” Kaler said. “Additionally, I heard that the communities of greater Minnesota value the university for a variety of reasons, including our commitment to solving the state’s most critical challenges, from clean water to the educational achievement gap to agricultural challenges; the human capital we supply with more than 300,000 alumni across the state; and for our work in educating and preparing Minnesota’s future leaders.”

In his travels, Kaler talked to more than 30 state legislators, who will consider whether to approve his construction requests next year.