Bipartisan Bill Headed to Dayton’s Desk for Dismissal



With less than a month remaining in session, both sides of the Legislature have begun to finalize bills that they plan to send to Governor Mark Dayton. One such bill, Senate File 878 (SF 878), is the Senate’s Omnibus Judicial Policy Bill. With bipartisan support, this bill passed 39-22 on Thursday, April 23rd. Two sections of SF 878 have garnered a greatattention—felon voting rights and gun suppressors— and the latter has received a Veto threat from Dayton.

Currently under Article Seven, Section One, of the Minnesota State Constitution, any person convicted of a felony loses the right to vote. In combination with Minnesota Law establishing both the incarceration time and parole time as a time period of sentencing, this means anyone who is on parole is still not eligible to vote. SF 878 changes the interpretation of conviction to mean solely the time a felon is sentenced in prison—not including time on parole—which means that anyone on parole would regain the vote as a result of the bill.

In support of this section of SF 878, proponents argue that restoring voting rights to felons on parole would help reduce rates of recidivism (when a former felon commits another crime). Additionally, proponentsargue that because the Minnesota State Constitution was written in 1857, when parole was nonexistent, the laws on the subject need updating for the modern criminal justice system.

Opponents, on the other hand, argue that because parole is in fact a part of criminal sentencing, felons on parole should not have the right to vote. Therefore, because Minnesota Law currently prohibits these felons from voting, the alterations brought forth by the new bill are not desirable. Moreover, those in opposition to the bill argue that the motivation behind this law change is election-based, as they believe that the felons of question on parole would become a new voting block for either political party.

The second popular section of SF 878 regards gun suppressors. Currently under Minnesota State Law, it is illegal to purchase gun suppressors or, as they are commonly known, “silencers”. The bill would change the state statutes to allow for the legal purchase of silencers after the would-be customer goes through a Federal Background Check, which cost several hundred dollars.

Proponents of the section of the bill claim that despite their pop-culture perception of completely silencing a gunshot, suppressors merely reduce the decibel level emitted by any given gunshot by 30 decibels. As gunshots are rather loud, this only reduces the average gunshot sound to around 140 decibels, which is significantly louder than a typical rock concert. Therefore, the belief that gun suppressors pose a threat by silencing a gunshot is incorrect; the “boom” of the gunshot is lessened, but it is very much existent despite the aid of a suppressor. The main purpose of silencer use is to protect hearing. Even with ear protection, gunshot sounds can be damaging.

Community members in opposition to the allowance of gun suppressors wrongly believe that suppressing guns would allow for criminals to commit murder without police recognition, as the sound of a gunshot would then be barely—if at all—audible. Though gun suppressors protect ear health during and after the sound of a gunshot, they do not threaten protection of communities at large.

Both of the previously discussed issues have bipartisan support, which helped SF 878 pass through the DFL-controlled Senate. In the House, the section regarding voting rightslooks less likely to pass. The suppressor measure, however, will most likely pass,leaving the final decision to Governor Dayton who—as an opponent of the gun suppressor — has already promised to veto the measure.