ST. PAUL — A bill to expand police authority to arrest domestic abuse suspects without a warrant easily cleared its first legislative committee Wednesday.
Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, co-authored the bill, which allows police to arrest suspects of misdemeanor domestic violence cases without a warrant. That authority already exists in felony cases, though in misdemeanors it only lasts for 24 hours.
Advocates say abusers evade arrest by fleeing after police are called and laying low for a day.
Rebekah Moses, a program manager for the Minnesota Coalition for Battered Women, gave the example of a woman she called Gloria.
Moses said Gloria’s partner abused her and evaded police for a day because he knew they only had 24 hours to make an arrest without a warrant.
“This happened several times in one week and he always escaped before officers arrived,” Moses testified. Twenty-four hours, in other words, was simply not enough time to apprehend and arrest the man.
Maplewood Police Chief Paul Schnell said that's not unusual, especially in Greater Minnesota.
Several legislators’ questions focused on the bill’s lack of a time limit on the warrantless arrest authority.
Cornish noted that previous iterations of the law have steadily increased the time limit of warrantless arrests in these cases, up to the present total of 24 hours. And he found it unlikely that this bill would leap from a day to forever.
“Personally, I was thinking about a figure of 72 hours,” he said.
The bill’s author, Rep. Paul Rosenthal, D-Edina, agreed.
“I was swinging for the fences, but I do agree with you that there is some time limit that needs to be placed on that and we are going to work on that and come up with one that will protect victims and also protect innocent people,” he said.
The committee’s chair, Rep. Michael Paymar, D-St. Paul, seemed to agree, saying “sort of a work in progress on the time limit.”
Two men testified, saying the bill would unfairly tilt the balance of power toward the accuser in a domestic violence case, though they didn’t appear to find much support on the committee.
The bill passed after about 35 minutes of discussion, and its next stop is the judiciary committee.