A good law that didn't work this time...

Alfonso Rodriguez, arrested last night in connection with the Dru Sjodin abduction, was a convicted sex offender who was labeled "Level 3," which means he was likely to reoffend. He had been in prison for well over a decade before his release last May. At that time, law enforcement held meetings in Crookston, where he was to reside, to warn the locals of his presence amongst them.

The sex offender release notification program was the brainchild of now-retired Rep. Dave Bishop, a Republican from Rochester. I was working at the legislature when Bishop first attempted to get the bill through. He had almost no support for the legislation at the time, but true to form, a few years later Bishop saw his bill became law.

Bishop was a giant in the Minnesota legislature. Not only was he tall and intimidating, with a booming deep voice, but he was a creative lawmaker. A lawyer himself, he earned his millions by age 40 and retired to travel the world. He won a seat in the legislature when he was nearly 60 years old, and earned a master's degree from Harvard two years later.

Bishop attacked the problem of released sex offenders with his customary fervor. Hiring a staff of lawyers out of his own pocket, he traveled to other states which had attempted to write such a law. Any time you punish an offender beyond the terms of his sentence, you are skirting constitutional propriety, and Bishop wanted to write a law that not only had teeth, but would survive a constitutional challenge in the courts. New Jersey passed a law which failed in the courts, Washington passed a law which survived. Bishop traveled with his lawyers to both states, interviewing everyone from judges to lawyers to legislators to the policemen whose job it was to enforce the law.

I remember a committee hearing in the House when Bishop first introduced his law. Bishop was testifying. There was no question Bishop couldn't answer. The members started asking him impossibly detailed questions, with a smirk on their face, seeing if they could foil him. They could not. The chairman of the Judiciary Committee at the time, wily Wes Sjoklund, a DLFer, smiled wryly throughout, enjoying the spectacle. Bishop recounted visits in Washington state with neighbors of released sex offenders, with cops, with lawyers, with judges. He had it all down.

Even so, Bishop's sex offender release notification bill was not popular. In the Senate, Bishop couldn't find a single supporter, and oh how he could rail against those Senators. After I left the legislature, Bishop won them over, too.

Although the law did little to prevent the Dru Sjodin abduction by a repeat offender, Bishop's efforts made everybody aware of a thorny problem. His law has thus far not been challenged in the courts.

Bishop retired after the last legislative session. He never cared for publicity, so nobody really was aware of his work. If the DFL, or the sitting governor, wanted to take credit for laws he authored, he didn't mind. And so, the media really missed out on the importance of a real character on the Minnesota scene.