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Local legislators take slow road on Poirier bill

ST. PAUL -- Both time and money stand in the way of the most controversial piece of legislation to result from the Katie Poirier abduction -- placing safety regulations on convenience stores. And Sen. Sam Solon, DFL-Duluth, is the gatekeeper.

ST. PAUL -- Both time and money stand in the way of the most controversial piece of legislation to result from the Katie Poirier abduction -- placing safety regulations on convenience stores. And Sen. Sam Solon, DFL-Duluth, is the gatekeeper.
The legislation, which was introduced in the Senate Feb. 21, would set minimum requirements for video surveillance cameras in convenience stores and mandate safety measures during graveyard shifts. The 19-year-old Poirier of Barnum was abducted from a Moose Lake convenience store last summer.
Donald Blom of Richfield, who also had land near Moose Lake, confessed to abducting and killing Poirier. Blom, who later recanted his confession, is scheduled to stand trial April 17 in Virginia for Poirier's murder.
Solon chairs the powerful Senate Commerce Committee, which needs to approve the bill before its March 10 deadline. That leaves only two scheduled meetings available for a hearing, and competition from a docket of other bills on the waiting list.
"I'm not sure how we'll be able to squeeze it in there," Solon said, while assuring that he would try to accommodate the bill's author, Sen. Becky Lourey, DFL-Kerrick.
Len Simich, Katie Poirier's uncle and chairman of the task force that developed recommendations for the legislation, said the convenience store legislation was the last of the Katie Poirier bills, specifically because it is controversial. Solon and Rep. Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth, also served on the convenience store task force.
"It's controversial, but it's the right thing," said Simich, a Chaska resident. "They can do the right thing or they can hide behind schedules. They can hide behind dollars."
Simich estimates it will cost convenience stores about $5,000 to comply with the legislation, which offers convenience store owners a one-time tax credit for 50 percent of their costs. It also authorizes the attorney general's office to impose a fine up to $25,000 for violations, Lourey said.
Lobbyists for convenience stores did not return repeated calls on the legislation.
Solon preached caution. He said his committee has reviewed similar legislation before and always acted conservatively.
He said the requirement for surveillance cameras would probably be too specific for the committee's palate. The legislation calls for color videos and specifies a minimum resolution and illumination and the tape to be replaced after 20 uses.
"Certainly, we want cameras in all the stores," Solon said, but he also said the requirement shouldn't be too detailed.
He also said a requirement to have two people working between the hours of 11 p.m. and 7 a.m. would put some smaller stores out of business.
The legislation requires either the two employees cover the graveyard shift together or the store install security glass around the cashier or lock the door and use a window like a bank teller.
"That's pretty bizarre," Solon said. "Now you walk in and see a person behind a glass plate."
Huntley, who sits on the House Commerce Committee, said mandating two workers at night or construction to the stores would probably result in stores closing earlier.
"I don't know why someone would take a job where they're going to be locked in a facility with a little slot," he said.
Huntley indicated that the video surveillance requirement would be a probable sticking point in the House, too. But he said he will probably support the bill after listening to testimony in committee.
"I think we need to protect people," Huntley said.
Coralie Carlson is the legislative correspondent in St. Paul for Minnesota newspapers of the Up North Newspaper Network.

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