Daily Digest: Lawmakers push to keep cameras out of courtrooms

Good morning, and here it is Thursday already. Let’s take a look at the Digest:

1.  Minnesota’s experiments with cameras in courtrooms would come to a halt under legislation on the move. The House Public Safety and Security Committee held a hearing Wednesday on the bill and kept it in play for further action later this session. The bill would prohibit court officials from using state funds to expand audio and video coverage of criminal court proceedings. Such coverage has been recently allowed in very limited circumstances under a pilot program. Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, is the chief sponsor of the bipartisan bill. Rep. Debra Hilstrom, DFL-Brooklyn Center, is a co-sponsor. During the committee hearing, Knoblach warned that cameras could hinder cooperation. “If reporting a crime means the world can watch a report on the 10:00  news or see it forever on YouTube or elsewhere, some victims and witnesses will decide it’s just not worth it,” Knoblach said. Mark Anfinson, a lawyer for the Minnesota Newspaper Association, spoke against the bill. Anfinson argued that there is no evidence to back up the claims of bill supporters. “The pilot projects have shown that cameras cause absolutely no discernible problems for anybody in Minnesota courts, none,” Anfinson said. (MPR News)

2. Dayton open to protest penalty bill. Gov. Mark Dayton said Wednesday he is open to legislation declaring it unlawful to stage protests that spill onto freeways or tie up airport access roads as long as it doesn’t become a “dragnet” to quash dissent. In an interview with MPR News, Dayton said his decision on signing the measure will depend on how lawmakers word their bill. Last year, he objected to a proposal during final negotiations with the Republican-led Legislature, and it got set aside in the end. “The language last year was too broad and too vague and could be misused to restrict people’s right to lawful, free assembly,” Dayton said, adding, “If it’s going to be just sort of a broader dragnet to limit people’s First Amendment rights, I’m not going to be supportive.” But Dayton said that there is room for some restrictions in the name of public safety. “People who are driving at reasonable but proper speeds come around the corner but suddenly traffic is halted, there is a public safety risk and there is a risk to law enforcement,” he said. (MPR News)

3. Alleged mosque bombers arraigned. Two of the three men accused of bombing a suburban Twin Cities mosque last summer made brief appearances Wednesday in an Illinois federal courtroom. Michael Hari, 47, and one of his alleged accomplices, Michael McWhorter, 29, were set for preliminary hearings where they could have called witnesses and questioned the government’s case against them. They waived that right. Hari came into the courtroom in the early afternoon unshackled, wearing a yellow jail jumpsuit and sporting a wispy gray beard with no mustache. He sat calmly with defense attorneys, occasionally looking back to his father sitting in the court. McWhorter followed shortly after also unshackled and in prison garb. Federal prosecutors in Minneapolis last week filed a criminal complaint charging Hari, McWhorter and Joe Morris, 22, with maliciously damaging the mosque by means of fire and explosives. (MPR News)

4. Bill to legalize fireworks is back. Minnesotans have long ignored the state’s laws and shot off fireworks and firecrackers here, but they head across the border to pick up the goods, said Sen. Torrey Westrom, a Republican from Elbow Lake whose district abuts North Dakota. “This really comes down to where you think we should collect the sales tax — Minnesota or neighboring states?” said Westrom, who is pushing to allow the sale and use of such pyrotechnics in Minnesota. The perennial attempt by lawmakers to allow flashier fireworks is likely to run into a roadblock at Gov. Mark Dayton’s office. Dayton vetoed a similar bill in 2012 and reiterated his opposition for the measure in 2016. Westrom said he hopes Dayton changes his mind this year, noting broad support from residents. But Dayton told MPR News Wednesday he would veto the bill again. (Star Tribune)

5. Former House speaker makes finalist list for state supreme court.  A state panel is recommending Gov. Mark Dayton pick among four candidates to fill an open Minnesota Supreme Court seat. Finalists include Minneapolis DFL Rep. Paul Thissen, who is leaving the Legislature this year after a failed run for governor. Also named as finalists by the Commission on Judicial Selection: ex-Minnesota Department of Human Services commissioner and current appellate court judge Lucinda Jesson, Ramsey County Judge Jeffrey Bryan and Judge Bradford Delapena, who serves as chief judge of the Minnesota Tax Court. Interviews are expected over the next few weeks. This will be Dayton’s sixth appointment to the Minnesota Supreme Court. The person selected by Dayton will replace Judge David R. Stras, who was confirmed by the U.S. Senate in late January to sit on the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. (MPR News)

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