Judges tweak Minnesota congressional districts

Minnesota’s best-known U.S. House member will seek re-election in a district where she does not live and its top-ranking federal representative will run in slightly less friendly territory after a five-judge panel on Tuesday redrew congressional district lines.

For the most part, the judges Tuesday lived up to their pledge to make few changes as they balanced population in the state’s eight U.S. House districts. Three of the districts remain mostly rural.

Each district contains about 663,000 people.

Former Republican presidential candidate Michele Bachmann immediately said she would run for re-election in the tweaked 6th Congressional District, saying in an interview that it has been home to her since she grew up in the Anoka area, which she called the heart of the district.

However, her Washington County home no longer is in the district.

“Just as we suspected, the liberal courts have changed the makeup of Minnesota’s congressional districts,” Bachmann wrote to supporters Tuesday afternoon. “The courts’ liberal bias was evident by cherry picking the districts and going so far as to draw my home — where I have raised my family and represented in Congress for the past six years — outside the new 6th district. “

She and U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, a St. Paul Democrat, now live in the same district. However, a U.S. House member does not need to live in the district he or she represents.

Bachmann said she has told people for two weeks that she would run in whatever district retained the core of the 6th, a district that runs from Wisconsin in the east to St. Cloud in the west, mostly across the northern Twin Cities.

The top-ranking Minnesota representative, U.S. Rep. John Kline, saw his district slip north into Ramsey County, where Democrats are stronger than elsewhere in his southern Twin Cities and rural district.

The district served by Republican Kline, chairman of the House education and labor committee, also added Wabasha County on the south.

The only other significant change was extending Democrat McCollum’s St. Paul-based district to the east, into less Democratic northern Washington County.

The five-judge panel, which took on the redistricting task after the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton could not agree on new district lines, said it succeeded in its goal of keeping congressional districts much the same as they were the past 10 years.

“The plan established by the panel is a least-change plan to the extent feasible,” the judges said in their U.S. House map order.

But state Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, said the judges did a poor job of keeping communities of similar interests together.

“There is a lot that is just kind of puzzling at this moment,” said Anderson, who led the House redistricting committee.

Northeast Minnesota’s 8th congressional district, represented by Republican Chip Cravaack, changes the least, picking up more voters in the Bemidji area, although Bemidji itself remains in the 7th.

Western Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District served by Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson adds all or parts of three counties to the south and more of Stearns County but otherwise looks much the same as when the last map was drawn in 2002.

Two Minneapolis-area districts show relatively little change.

Updated: Politicos try to figure out what new maps mean

Minnesota politicians studied maps this afternoon trying to figure out what it means to them and their parties.

For rural Minnesota, it was no surprise that congressional and legislative districts grew geographically as people moved to suburban districts that shrunk.

In the U.S. House, relatively little change was in order as a five-judge panel released new political maps, although former presidential candidate U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann said she would seek re-election to a northern Twin Cities district, even though she no longer lives within its boundaries.

Those most interested in the Legislature were looking at the new maps district by district to see how many incumbents may end up paired in a district and how many districts there may be without an incumbent. That analysis could take hours.

Three congressional districts are mostly rural and the other five are mostly suburban or urban.

“The plan established by the panel is a least-change plan to the extent feasible,” the judges said in their U.S. House map order.

Northeast Minnesota’s 8th congressional district, represented by Republican Chip Cravaack, changes the least, picking up more voters in the Bemidji area, although Bemidji itself remains in the 7th.

Western Minnesota’s 7th Congressional District served by Democratic U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson adds all or parts of three counties to the south and more of Stearns County but otherwise looks much the same.

Bachmann’s 6th also looks much like it did, although it loses the northern part of Washington County, where she lives. Democratic Rep. Betty McCollum’s 4th expands into Washington County to link St. Paul and eastern suburbs.

Bachmann and McCollum now live in the same district, but the U.S. Constitution does not require a U.S. House member to live in the district he or she represents. Bachmann plans to seek re-election in the 6th, which stretches across the northern Twin Cities to St. Cloud.

To the south, Republican Rep. John Kline’s 2nd expands into Wabasha County, but he loses heavily GOP Scott County.

Two Minneapolis-area districts show relatively little change.

Minnesota kept eight U.S. House seats after the 2010 census, although just barely. Each district contains just less than 663,000 people.

In the Legislature, rural districts expanded in the judges’ map as those around the Twin Cities shrunk geographically to account for population shifts.

Each of Minnesota’s state Senate districts has about 79,000 people, twice that of a state House seat.

“The panel has established and utilized politically neutral redistricting principals that advance the interest of the collective public good and preserve the public’s confidence and perception of fairness in the redistricting process,” the judges wrote in their order.

The judicial panel’s order said that it did not try to protect incumbent legislators: “Election districts do not exist for the benefit of any particular legislator.”

For the most part, the judges kept American Indian reservations from being split among more than one legislative district. They also kept the Iron Range within one Senate district and apparently did not pair Iron Range lawmakers against each other.

“In the northwest, the Red River Valley continues to be placed in as few legislative districts as is practicable,” the judges wrote, keeping Moorhead and Detroit Lakes in a single Senate district.

The judges used Moorhead as an example of how they decided to draw lines.

Oakport Township is to be annexed by Moorhead, so the judges said they put the two together, even though that put more people in the House district than otherwise would be ideal. They said that was a good move so the city could be kept intact.

In eastern Washington County, the judges followed the wishes of residents from there who testified at public hearings and kept much of the area along the St. Croix River in one Senate district.

Much of the Twin Cities’ population growth has been in the outer-ring suburbs, known as exurbs. Today’s new maps reflect a long-time move of people from rural Minnesota to the Twin Cities area.

However, since many suburbs also include farmland, separating suburbs from rural areas sometimes is difficult.

Making comparing rural and suburban areas even more complex is the fact that the Twin Cities metropolitan region often now is considered an 11-county area. In the last census, it was considered seven counties.

Redistricting is more than political sport. Even though no one accuses the five judges of drawing the new maps for partisan advantage, how they drew lines will go a long ways to determine how competitive races will be between usually conservative Republicans and mostly liberal Democrats.

In some states, one party controls the legislature and governor’s office, giving that side a chance to draw lines favoring the party. In Minnesota, the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton last year could not agree on new maps, throwing the decision to the courts.

Redistricting is required by two U.S. Supreme Court rulings and the Minnesota Constitution as a way to keep the same number of people in elected officials’ districts.

For instance, after the 2010 U.S. Census, Minnesota’s eight congressional districts varied in population from 614,624 in the St. Paul area to 759,478 in a district on the north edge of the Twin Cities. Redistricting was needed to even out populations of all the districts at about 663,000.

The same was true of the 201 state legislative districts, with populations of the exurbs around the Twin Cities growing most rapidly while many rural areas grew slower or lost population.

Knowing that Minnesota politicians have a history of not agreeing on new district maps, with the courts forced to make the final decision, Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea of the Minnesota Supreme Court last year established a five-judge panel to hold hearings around the state and establish congressional and legislative district lines.

Gildea set up the panel based on a court case filed more than a year ago asking the courts to be involved. A case also filed in federal court remains on the books, but was suspended pending state court action.

Besides hearing from citizens around Minnesota, the five judges have heard from the two major political parties and others interested in the new maps.

In coming days, some legislators and potential candidates may consider moving to a new district. A legislative candidate must live in the district at least six months before the Nov. 6 election day.

U.S. House members do not need to live in the district they represent.

New political maps available at 1 p.m. Tuesday

A five-judge Minnesota panel plans to release new congressional and legislative district maps at 1 p.m. Tuesday.

The courts earlier had refused to announce a release date, but on Monday said the maps will be available at www.mncourts.gov under a “special redistricting panel” link.

Chief Justice Lorie S. Gildea established the judicial panel last year in case the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton did not agree on a redistricting plan. Republicans who controlled the Legislature passed a plan last year, which Dayton vetoed, and there has been no work on a new plan this year.

The courts say the Web site will include:

— The panel’s orders regarding redistricting.

— Statewide and Twin Cities area congressional district maps.

— Statewide and Twin Cities area legislative district maps.

— Select maps of metro areas around Minnesota where it is impossible to discern the legislative districts from the statewide maps.

— Various reports compatible with Maptitude software.

Within a week, reports also will be available in the State Law Library in St. Paul and each county law library.

Redistricting is required by two U.S. Supreme Court cases and a provision in the Minnesota Constitution that require elected officials’ districts to contain the same number of people. New maps are drawn every 10 years following the national census.

Minnesota politicians want look at new district maps

The most important day of the 2012 Minnesota legislative session, for some at least, could be Tuesday.

That is the day when a state judicial panel is expected to release new legislative and congressional district maps. Any legislator who wants to stay in office will want to look at the new maps immediately, then many will feel a strong need to head back home, meet new constituents and win their support.

While Tuesday is a legislative redistricting deadline and widely is expected to be the day new maps are released, the courts refuse to confirm it.

The release “will probably suck all of the oxygen out of the building,” House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, said.

Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said the new maps “will throw this place into a tizzy.”

Some predict legislators’ interest will lag after the new maps appear, perhaps shortening the session. Others say lawmakers will continue to work as normal.

“We are going to continue with our schedule,” Zellers said, adding that legislators “are not here for maps.”

But the maps are important to those thinking about running again. There is almost no way to draw new maps without pairing incumbents in some districts. And some incumbents may find districts with little resemblance to ones they have represented.

Zellers pledged that any redistricting distraction will be temporary. But Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said that leaders will discover many members want to go home soon.

Potential legislative and congressional candidates who have been on the fence could make decisions in the next few days, based on how the new districts look.

New maps are required by a pair of 1964 U.S. Supreme Court rulings, as well as a Minnesota Constitution provision, that require elected officials’ districts to have nearly the same number of people.

An example of needed changes is the 6th Congressional District in the northern Twin Cities area, stretching from Minnesota’s eastern border west to St. Cloud. Northern Twin Cities suburbs have added thousands of residents in the past 10 years, so the district represented by U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann must shrink geographically. That will force new lines so adjoining districts can take in former 6th district areas.

Rural districts have grown slowly in the past decade, or even shrunk, and will expand geographically to keep the same number of people as the rapidly growing suburbs.

A five-judge panel has held hearings around the state in anticipation of the Legislature and governor failing to agree on new maps, an assumption that proved correct.

Rhetoric up, cooperation down at Capitol

Political rhetoric escalated in the Minnesota Capitol today as Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed four Republican-written lawsuit reform bills.

Dayton complained that Republicans did not talk to him or consider a court report on the issue before passing the bills.

“It appears to be just another political ploy,” Dayton said.

On the other hand, House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, and Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem, R-Rochester, said that Dayton had since May to express concern about the bills. That is when the Senate overwhelmingly passed them; the House passed them earlier in this still-young legislative session and the Senate approved little changes days ago.

“They have set the tone,” Dayton said about Republican bills that he claims are not good for the average Minnesotan.

Zellers said the lawsuit reform bills came from businesses. “This is not a coalition of wrongdoers.”

Senjem encouraged state leaders to take a different tone.

“I just find this morning to be a little disappointing,” the leader said after learning about the vetoes and Dayton’s comments. “It is time for the governor to put the spears down.”

But Republicans took their shots at Dayton and his vetoes.

“The governor in vetoing them is no friend of Minnesota business,” said Sen. Julianne Ortman, R-Chanhassen.

The Legislature has met about three weeks (with a four-day break for precinct caucuses) out of what some legislative leaders predict to be a 10-week session. The state Constitution requires them to adjourn by May 21, but most leaders want to leave much earlier.

Minge leaves Appeals Court

Former U.S. Rep. David Minge is retiring from the state Appeals Court.

Gov. Mark Dayton announced the vacancy and asked the Judicial Selection Commission to begin the process of finding potential candidates to replace him.

Minge, 69, has served on the state’s second-highest court since then-Gov. Jesse Ventura appointed him in 2002. Before that, he served four terms in the U.S. House.

Mark Kennedy beat Minge when he ran for a fifth term.

Raised in Worthington, Minn., Minge also has been an attorney in private practice and taught law at the University of Wyoming.

Minge’s replacement must come from the 2nd Congressional District, across the southern Twin Cities and further south.

Judicial panel on road to new congressional maps

How Minnesotans use roads could help determine the shape of new congressional districts.

Most major rural Minnesota roads go east and west, one of several similarities that Republicans say should lead to three mostly rural congressional districts that stretch from Wisconsin to the Dakotas.

Democratic leaders, meanwhile, claim there are so many differences between eastern and western Minnesota that they should be in separate districts. They want to keep demographic differences among voters in a district at a minimum.

That is among issues five Minnesota judges are considering as they look at roads, city and county boundaries, demographics and other factors in facing a deadline to redraw Minnesota’s congressional maps.

The judges heard arguments about district lines Wednesday, preparing to release final maps on Feb. 21. New districts must be redrawn every 10 years to ensure that each of the state’s eight districts has the same population.

Judges are involved because the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton have not agreed on redistricting plans, and there are no signs they will make a deal before Feb. 21.

A lawyer representing Democratic voters, separate from party leaders, was critical of the GOP east-west districts.

“It certainly is not necessary to achieve population equality,” Alan Weinblatt said.

He called the Republican proposal “radical surgery” when only relatively minor changes are needed in current district lines.

Former Chief Justice Eric Magnuson, representing Republicans, said there is no major north-south highway in western Minnesota, and it makes sense for districts to follow highways.

“That is not a common way for people to travel,” he said about traffic going north and south on roads such as U.S. 75 and 59.

The GOP proposal divides fewer cities and counties among districts and puts the northern third of the state, with U.S. 2 stretching from Duluth to Moorhead, in a new 8th Congressional District.

In southern Minnesota, Republicans propose a district about like the one that now goes from Wisconsin to South Dakota along Interstate 90, but they add western counties south of the Minnesota River.

In the central part of the state, a district would be north, northwest and west of the Twin Cities, in a large part near Interstate 94.

Magnuson said the northern district features sugar beets, although he said little about Iron Range differences with the beet-growing northwest. The central district, he said, is heavy on dairy farms, while the southern district features corn and soybeans.

“Everyone is proposing fairly significant changes … to accommodate the population,” Magnuson said.

Democratic leaders’ preferred plan, meanwhile, includes a northeastern district much in line today’s 8th Congressional District.

The western Minnesota district under the DFL plan stretches all the way from Canada to Iowa, although attorney Marc Elias told the judges that it just extends the current 7th district 40 miles to the south, so there is little new.

The Democratic submission reduces the southern district’s east-west size because Rochester and Mankato are growing.

The two parties’ plans, plus a third submitted by DFL-leaning voters, propose a similar 6th Congressional District north of the Twin Cities that is smaller than today, to compensate for the area’s growing population.

“The decisions made in the north drive the rest of the map,” Elias said, noting problems keeping similar voters together in a northern district.

Republicans keep most American Indian reservations north of the Twin Cities in one district, while Democrats split them among districts.

Northwestern Minnesota has more in common with the southwest than the northeast, said Elias, a Washington, D.C. attorney. That means, he added, the DFL north-south plan results in a district with more similarities among voters.

The parties deal differently with the current 2nd district, south of the Twin Cities.

Republicans mix more rural counties like Goodhue and Wabasha with mostly suburban ones such as Dakota. Democrats, on the other hand, only include rural Goodhue with suburban counties.

The DFL plan would put incumbent U.S. Reps. Michele Bachmann and Betty McCollum in the same district, but would not force races between any other incumbents. The Republican plan does not pit incumbents against each other.

Republicans, Democrats argue redistricting fundamentals

Republicans want new political boundaries drawn to avoid splitting cities and counties, but Democrats say that judges who have accepted the task of producing new congressional and legislative district maps should emphasize keeping people with similar interests together.

It is a wonky, technical debate, but one that could determine who represents Minnesotans for the next decade.

The two sides agreed on many things in a Wednesday court hearing, but not on the fundamental issue about criteria used to redraw the lines, as required after each decade’s census numbers are available.

“You are the guardians of the Constitution,” former Chief Justice Eric Magnuson told a five-judge panel that accepted the task of drawing new district maps. He now represents Republicans.

The basic disagreement between Magnuson and Marc Elias, a Democratic Washington, D.C., attorney, was whether the state Constitution requires the judges to do everything possible to avoid drawing district lines that split counties, cities and other political entities. That is what Magnuson argued.

Elias, on the other hand, said that while preserving existing political lines may be important, the judges also need to consider keeping communities of interests together. For instance, the Democratic argument would keep minorities in the same district, even if a minority community spanned more than one city.

“Make sure the people of Minnesota have their interests protected,” Elias told the judges.

Voters move and communities grow, not always respecting political lines, Elias said.

Magnuson emphasized to the judges that the public must feel confident their maps are the fairest possible, and sticking to existing political boundaries would do that.

While Elias and Magnuson did not discuss it in court or with reporters afterward, the issue is important because Democrats want to make sure minorities and others that traditionally support them are not so diluted that they lose voting power. If a voting bloc is divided, it often loses power to elect a candidate.

Republicans, on the other hand, see an advantage of keeping minorities in the minority of each district because they often get little support from that segment of voters.

The five judges are expected to release their redistricting criteria soon, giving the two major political parties a chance to tweak their proposed district maps.

New maps are needed so each district contains basically the same number of people, as required by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton have failed to agree on new maps, and few think they will. That impasse resulted in the courts setting up the judicial panel to begin working since new district lines must be in place by Feb. 21.

Shutdown judge receives state honor

The judge who presided over a state shutdown lawsuit received a “service to the community” award from fellow Minnesota judges.

The Minnesota District court Judges Association gave the award to Second Judicial District Chief Judge Kathleen Gearin. She also presided over a case involving then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty’s unilateral budget cuts and served on the 2008 state Canvassing Board that dealt with the U.S. Senate recount.

“For the last several years, she has been front and center on some of the most challenging legal and electoral issues of our lifetime,” said one of Gearin’s nominators.

“Her gifted abilities and energies were tested when she tackled this (shutdown) case,” said another nominator. “She presided with civility, but firmness; respect, but independence befitting the judicial branch; compassion, but grounded in the rule of law and moderation. She labored to serve the public, to be fair, and to do justice…, her professionalism and her handling of this case embody our ideal of justice we strive for as judges.” 

She also showed a sense of humor and often did something judges seldom do: She thought out loud as she heard the shutdown case, giving those in the courtroom a deep understanding of her decisions.

Update: Court rules courts will stay open in shutdown

Christopherson (Richard Sennott, pool photographer)

Minnesota’s courts will remain open if much of state government shuts down Friday, a retired judge ruled Tuesday.

 “The Minnesota judicial branch shall continue to perform the functions of that branch necessary to fulfill its obligations and to ensure citizens’ rights…” retired judge Bruce Christopherson wrote in an order a day after he heard arguments to keep the courts operating.

In making the order, Christopherson also said that Minnesota Management and Budget must keep enough people on duty to pay court workers and other expenses.

The ruling came before a broader one that will affect much of the rest of state government. It is expected Wednesday or Thursday and would determine whether other state services would continue in lieu of a budget.

Christopherson, a former Granite Falls judge, said that rights such as protection of life, liberty and property trump a state constitutional provision that says only the Legislature can appropriate state funds. Four Republican senators had argued that the courts have no authority to keep money flowing if there is no state budget.

“Complete absence of funding of any of the three branches of government would effect the withering of that branch, contrary to the clear intent of the Minnesota Constitution,” Christopherson wrote.

“I am delighted,” Gov. Mark Dayton said about the ruling, which matched what his attorney argued in court on Monday.

Christopherson’s ruling provides funding through July 30, but he reserved the right to change the time it remains in place and make other changes in his order.

He heard on Monday that 53,000 court hearings are scheduled for July.

Christopherson was appointed because the Ramsey County chief judge said it would be a conflict of interest for her to handle the case.

His ruling could be appealed to the state Appeals Court or Supreme Court, but Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, R-Buffalo, said GOP leaders have no such plans.

The case was brought by Attorney General Lori Swanson in an effort to keep the judiciary funded if the governor and legislators do not agree on a budget by Friday, when current appropriations end.

Dayton and legislative leaders continue to discuss budget issues behind closed doors, but are not saying how much progress is being made.

Dayton vetoed Republican-written budget bills, including one funding the courts, on May 24, the day after the regular legislative session ended. A special legislative session would be needed to pass more budget bills, but Dayton says he will not call one until he and Republican leaders have agreed on an entire budget.

State asks courts to allow some spending in shutdown

Minnesota’s attorney general today asked courts to allow some state operations to continue if there is a government shutdown on July 1.

Attorney General Lori Swanson filed paperwork in Ramsey County District Court seeking permission to fund programs that affect “the life, health, safety and liberty” of Minnesotans even if there is no state budget.

Swanson did not spell out what should remain open if a budget impasse continues, but gave some strong hints.

The state cares for nearly 1,300 mentally ill Minnesotans, Swanson said, and “without a state budget or court order providing for the continued care of patients, they would either have to be released or left unattended in state facilities.”

Also, she said, about 9,000 people in Minnesota prisons need continual guarding, food and other services. Another 20,000 offenders on supervised release in the community, including 1,200 high-risk criminals, need to be monitored by probation officers, the attorney general said.

The 616 sex offenders who have been committed to state hospitals are dangerous and likely to reoffend if not supervised, Swanson said. But they could be released from state care in a shutdown unless the court acts, she wrote.

More than 750 military veterans could lose care in the state’s five veterans’ home, Swanson warned.

The attorney general also warned that state troopers, criminal investigators and emergency management personnel may not be working.

More than 600,000 low-income Minnesotans, such as the elderly and disabled, receive state-funded medical care and could lose that without a state budget deal, Swanson wrote. That number includes Minnesotans in nursing homes.

While taxes are required to be paid even without a new tax law, the state may not be able to collect those taxes, Swanson said, “further jeopardizing the state’s fiscal situation.”

“The relief requested is limited and temporary in nature,” Swanson wrote. “The relief sought would only permit the continued operation of the core functions of the government entities” as required by state and federal constitutions and courts.

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that “states cannot abridge or ignore the constructional rights of their citizens simply because funding has not been appropriated,” Swanson said in the court document.

A shutdown is being discussed because the Republican-controlled Legislature and Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton have not agreed on a budget for the two years beginning July 1. Only agriculture programs have been funded, and even they may be hampered because other parts of state government are involved the Agriculture Department’s funding.

There were no high-level budget talks on Friday, over the weekend or today. There was no word when Dayton and GOP leaders will meet again.

All Dayton administration agencies have prepared shutdown plans, although state officials refuse to release them to the public. Those plans are expected to form the basis for what Dayton and Swanson ask the courts to keep open.

In her document asking the courts to get involved, Swanson said that while on one hand the state Constitution requires the Legislature to appropriate money before it can be spent, on the other hand state constitutional officers are required to fulfill their duties, and money is needed to do that.

There was no immediate indication about when the courts may take up Swanson’s request.

Senate keeps court funding, but cuts public safety

Senators approved a spending bill Tuesday that keeps money flowing to the courts while making cuts that could slow some crime investigations.

The Republican-written measure would spend $1.8 billion in the next two years, $60 million less than current budget and $29 million below a plan from Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton. The bill passed 36-28 with Democrats lining up against it.

The courts maintain most funding under the bill offered by Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, who leads the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee. But Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said public safety cuts such as one taking $1 million from the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension could slow police work and a provision chopping the Human Rights Department budget in half would affect the state’s effort to stop discrimination.

Limmer’s bill cuts less than most budget bills now making their way through the Legislature.

The measure gives a 2.4 percent increase to state public defenders, who have sustained cuts in the recent past.

Funding for poor Minnesotans involved in civil court fights is cut 6.4 percent, $1.5 million.

Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said the cut was included because there is no constitutional requirement to provide legal help in civil cases, while there is in criminal cases.

The biggest cut, by percent, is the $3.3 million for the Human Rights Department, down from $6.7 million in the current budget.

“What a terrible message,” Latz said.

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said no other state agency is looking at a 50 percent budget cut.

Newman was critical of the department. Ninety percent of claims the department helps file are dismissed, he said.

“It is an advocacy group,” he said of the department.

Democrats complained that a Corrections Department cut means 31 probation officers would not be funded, and local governments may be forced to find their own money to do the work.

Reducing Bureau of Criminal Apprehension spending by $1 million could slow laboratory operations it conducts for police officers statewide, as well as forcing elimination of a program designed to protect children from online solicitation, Democrats said.

Democratic-Farmer-Laborites offered amendments to increase fees to maintain funding in several areas, but Republicans who control the Senate defeated the efforts.

The House plans to debate a similar bill in the next few days.