At hearing in Crookston, Red River Valley Sugarbeet Association representative says he thinks they did.
Did law enforcement overstep legal and constitutional boundaries during the historically difficult fall 2019 sugar beet harvest in the region when it came to enforcing weight restriction regulations regarding loaded trucks?
That was a possibility presented to Minnesota legislators at a hearing in Crookston on Friday.
Stressing repeatedly that he was not out to “bash” the Minnesota State Patrol or law enforcement in general, Bruce Kleven of the Red River Valley Sugarbeet Growers Association said that doesn’t change the fact that “some of the enforcement methods” regarding both “side of the road” enforcement and enforcement “after the fact at the scale house” raise “constitutional problems.”
Kleven said that the harvest’s most stressful times, such as when sugar beet growers were hoping to get as many beets out of the field before an early October snow storm struck, the State Patrol seemed most enthusiastic when it came to waving trucks to the side of the road to check their load weights. It was almost like they “set up shop” on the Highway 75 bypass just outside of Crookston, Kleven said, adding that it seemed to him that probable cause was lacking for the roadside checks.
He compared it to narcotics enforcement. “You can’t just pull any car over and look for drugs,” Kleven noted.
Roadside enforcement has its role and is beneficial, he said, when people violating the rules are rightfully being caught, he said. “But people who are doing everything right are waiting on the side of the road,” Kleven added. “The federal government says they’re not targeting the industry, but you don’t see checks on March 8, you don’t see checks on July 8, but you will on Oct. 8.”
Kleven was the first of many to offer testimony in UMN Crookston’s Bede Ballroom on Friday, where legislators belonging to the finance and policy divisions of the Senate Agriculture, Rural Development, and Housing Committee convened their committee hearing. The previous evening, they toured Crookston’s American Crystal Sugar factory, and before departing on Friday they were to tour the Agricultural Utilization Research Institute in Crookston as well.
With the snow storm forecast to hit within 24 hours, Kleven said he monitored the situation near the East Grand Forks American Crystal factory and saw a sugar beet hauler get pulled over. The reasoning was valid, Kleven said, since the truck driver was not wearing his seat belt. But instead of being issued a citation and being allowed to get back on the road as expeditiously as possible, Kleven said the driver was told to drive to the scale to have the truck weighed. From the time the “cherries” on the State Patrol Suburban were activated to the time the driver was finally allowed to resume hauling, Kleven said 45 minutes had passed. He was "out of the hauling cycle" at that point, he noted.
“We’re trying to get (the sugar beets) out before a winter storm, and (the State Patrol) is seeing that as an opportunity for roadside enforcement,” he said.
Kleven said other beet truck drivers have been waved to the side of the road and troopers have asked to see “their last five scale tickets,” which, he said, “Is like a search of the cab.”
As for after-the-fact load weight enforcement at the scale house, that dates back to 1981 legislative action in St. Paul that is possibly unique to Minnesota, Kleven said. The problem, he added, was that the State Patrol indicated once the legislation was on the books that it would end roadside stops of loaded sugar beet trucks. But, given what he’s witnessed and heard about, that clearly isn’t the case.
The language in the 1981 agreement indicates there is no need for a search warrant. “Why? Because the courts would require (one),” Kleven added.
There’s a 14-day window allowed for after-the-fact load weight enforcement at the scale house. Kleven wondered how the public would react if they received a speeding citation two weeks after the fact.
Kleven acknowledged that Col. Matt Langer with the State Patrol has been open to discussing growers’ concerns, and that Col. Langer recently visited the Kiel farm just south of Crookston to discuss matters further. (District 1B State Rep. Deb Kiel of Crookston sat in on Friday’s hearing.) It should be noted that Col. Langer also attended Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s ag roundtable in East Grand Forks and said he was aware of concerns and was addressing them.
Kleven also stressed that sugar beet growers aren’t asking not to be regulated. He knows law enforcement has a job to do, and noted that sugar beet growers don’t want to “ruin roads” any more than anyone else wants to drive on ruined roads. But it should be about finding a balance, he noted, and he said he thinks the balance has tipped too much to one side of late.
Asked by committee co-chair State Sen. Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake) if he’s heard of similar concerns from sugar beet growers in North Dakota, Kleven said he had not.