ST PAUL, Minn. — Hearings were held Tuesday in both the Minnesota House and the Senate on a bill that would give the Attorney General’s Office more money to hire more attorneys to prosecute violent criminals.
The Minnesota Attorney General’s Office has more than 150 attorneys on staff, but AG Keith Ellison says most of those attorneys work on civil cases.
When Ellison took over as Attorney General, he says the office had only one full-time attorney assigned to handle criminal cases.
Ellison says his office now has three full-time attorneys working criminal cases and he’s hoping this new bill will give him the funding to add seven more.
If passed into law, the new bill would give the Attorney General’s Office $4 million over the next two years to hire seven attorneys and two paralegals to prosecute serious crimes.
“When counties need our assistance, they call us, and if we have resources available, we step up and handle those cases with them or for them,” Ellison said during Tuesday morning’s house committee meeting.
Ellison says these calls usually come in from rural counties that don’t have enough staff or the expertise to handle a case.
“In the four years that I’ve been at the Attorney General’s Office, it’s been overwhelmingly homicide cases. We’ve had some criminal sexual conduct cases,” Ellison explained.
A handful of county attorneys and the Minnesota County Attorney Association support the bill.
In one of their letters, they said, “24 of the state’s county attorney offices have two or fewer attorneys and there are fourteen counties with just three attorneys.”
“This bill is firmly about public safety and getting the bad guy, and using the state’s largest law office to take care of that,” the bill’s house author Democrat Representative John Huot says.
The bill made it through its first committee in the house Tuesday morning. Then, Tuesday afternoon the bill was heard in its first senate committee.
“It is long overdue funding,” senate author Democrat Senator Erin Murphy said.
Originally, the idea was for that funding to kick-in next year, but a new amendment is asking for additional money so some of those attorneys can start working right away.
“The initial $269,000 will allow us to begin the hiring process for two of those seven attorneys and one of the legal assistants in this year already,” Chief Deputy Attorney General John Keller said during Tuesday’s senate committee meeting.
Some senators were leery of this late change to the bill.
Some opponents were also critical, arguing the Attorney General’s Office could use its existing resources to move more of its attorneys into its criminal division.
In the end, the Senate’s State and Local Government and Veterans Committee also approved the bill on an 8-5 vote.
The bill will now move on to the Finance Committee in the Senate and the House Ways and Means Committee in the House.
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