- Associated Press - Tuesday, May 17, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota lawmakers have advanced two high profile criminal justice bills, but they both still have to clear at least one more hurdle.

On Monday, state senators voted to rewrite drug sentencing laws, while state representatives adopted legislation to set state guidelines on police body cameras relating to their use and access to the footage, Minnesota Public Radio News (https://bit.ly/1YyzISe ) reported.

Democratic state Sen. Ron Latz of St. Louis Park said lawmakers felt compelled to confront the drug sentencing issue after the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines Commission decided last year to reduce the presumptive prison sentences for many drug crimes.

“We can be stuck in the past and pretend that what we’ve been doing in the last 30 years that’s not working is somehow going to change in the next five years (and) is going to start working. But it won’t,” Latz said. “Or we could change our thinking.”

The drug sentencing bill sponsored by Latz would be more lenient on first-time offenders so they’re more likely to get treatment than time behind bars. The bill also raises the amount of illegal drug possession before the most severe charges kick in.

But some state senators, like Republican state Sen. Julie Rosen of Vernon Center, believe the public wants elected officials to crack down harder on drug addiction.

Republican state Rep. Tony Cornish of Vernon Center said “a lot of compromises and an agreement” were made in order to pass the police body camera legislation.

The bill would require agencies utilizing the technology to adopt policies after public input and to submit to regular audits to ensure they’re following the rules. It also would allow agencies to keep most of the footage off-limits to the public unless severe force is used in an incident.

Democratic state Rep. Rena Moran of St. Paul argues that the bill needs to do more to foster trust between police officers and the communities that they serve.

“There’s an outright cry about justice, about fairness, about accountability, about transparency and this bill does not hold transparency and it is very, very, heavy,” she said.

State representatives have six days to match it up with a different police body camera bill passed by state senators.

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Information from: Minnesota Public Radio News, https://www.mprnews.org

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