Appleton prison bill waiting to be heard in state Legislature

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A bill that could put the Prairie Correctional Facility in Appleton in a better position to house prisoners at some point in the future has been introduced in the Minnesota House by District 17A Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg. In the Senate, District 17 Sen. Andrew Lang, R-Olivia, is carrying the bill.

However, the bill has yet to have a hearing and with the deadlines rapidly approaching in the Minnesota Legislature for bills to be heard, time is running out for it to move forward this year.

The bill deadlines are:
  By March 10 committees must act favorably on bills in the house of origin;
  By March 17 committees must act favorably on bills, or companion bills, that met the first deadline in the other house; and,
  By March 31 committees must act favorably on major appropriation and finance bills.

Miller’s bill was introduced in the House Feb. 20 and referred to the Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee. It has yet to be heard in the committee. Though no hearing was scheduled for this week, Miller says that one “is in the works.”

If Miller’s bill were passed, it would allow the state commissioner of corrections to use a non-publically owned facility to house state inmates.

It also says that, “The commissioner, in order to address bed capacity shortfalls, shall enter into a contract either to purchase and operate or to lease-to-own and operate an existing prison facility located in Appleton, Minnesota. The commissioner shall attempt to conclude negotiations by January 1, 2018.”

While Miller is the chief author of the bill, Republican Speaker of the Minnesota House Kurt Daudt has also signed on to it as has Tony Cornish, the Republican chair of the state House’s Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee.

With Republicans in charge of both the Senate and the House, the bill could get adopted by the Legislature yet this year, however, it might have a hard time getting Gov. Mark Dayton’s signature.

Dayton prefers to look at sentencing reform to ease prison overcrowding while state unions and the commissioner of corrections have been strong opponents of using the Appleton prison.

It has been estimated that reopening the prison would create 300 to 350 jobs for western Minnesota, have a $13 to $15 million payroll, and provide a significant boost to the local economies of small towns throughout the region.

Minnesota faces a crisis in housing state prison inmates because its beds are full. There are around 500 of its prisoners in county jails where they get no state educational programs or counseling that would reduce the chances of them reoffending once released, Miller has said...


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