Lawmakers plan to speed up legislative action in sex offender case

State lawmakers say they’re doing what they can to soften the blow of the pending release of sex offender Clarence Opheim from a special Minnesota treatment program.

They intend to try a rarely used “urgency” measure to speed up action to change current law.

After nearly two decades in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, Opheim will become the first patient released since the program was created in 1994.

But a loophole in state law regarding community notification of sex offenders troubled lawmakers so much both houses are likely to pass emergency legislation addressing their concerns.

Current state law prohibits notifying communities about the release of a sex offender if they are first sent to a halfway house, as was the case with Opheim, who is now 64. Before gaining his provisional discharge, Opheim served 4 1/2 years in prison and 18 years in the sex-offender program.

The standards, which are different if an offender is released directly from prison, don’t require the additional treatment MSOP offers.

House Speaker Kurt Zellers said Friday that his chamber will move to declare an “urgency” on Monday — a rules suspension that exempts lawmakers from having to hear legislation over multiple days.

“I think it’s critically important that folks in the community know whether … a sex offender of this level with these offenses [is] in your community—absolutely citizens should know,” Zellers said.

Declaring an urgency, designed to pass legislation quickly in emergencies, requires two-thirds of both chambers, or 90 representatives and 45 senators. DFL House Minority Leader Paul Thissen said his members would support the move, which requires bipartisan cooperation to pass.

Senate Majority Leader Dave Senjem said that although he hasn’t discussed the measure with his caucus, it’s likely the Senate will “follow the lead” of the House.

GOP leaders have expressed outrage about Opheim’s release since a panel of judges approved it in early February. House lawmakers held a Feb. 15 committee hearing about the release. That said Zellers, is where the loophole in reporting laws came to light.

“One of our first responsibilities as legislators is public safety,” he said.

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