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Alleged Newport motel kidnapping spurs planned legislation

An alleged kidnapping by a convicted sex offender who was the former owner of a Newport motel is prompting legislative action.

Sen. Katie Sieben and Rep. John Kriesel say they will push this year for a law that would prohibit convicted sex offenders from operating motels and hotels.

The planned legislation is a result of requests from Newport city officials following an incident last year at the Sure Lock Motel. Police say motel operator Roger Berres, a convicted sex offender, had locked himself in a motel room with a girl for several hours during a standoff with police last October.

Officials say there is nothing in state law prohibiting sex offenders from operating a motel.

"That needs to be changed," said Kriesel, R-Cottage Grove. "That's absurd."

Kriesel said the legislation is a direct response to the alleged incident in Newport.

"It's disturbing as heck," Kriesel said. "It's responding to that (incident), but I don't want it to happen anywhere."

Sieben, DFL-Cottage Grove, said it's aimed at keeping the public safe.

"I think the tragedy that happened in Newport just demonstrated that the public has a right to know or expect some reasonable degree of safety when they stay at a motel that the (operator) who has access to all the rooms isn't someone who could prey on them or their children," Sieben said.

The two lawmakers said the legislation still was being drafted and had not been introduced.

Ownership change at troubled motel

Berres, the subject of previous run-ins with Newport police at the roadside motel, is already on the way out the door - pushed by city officials eager to clean up what they said has become a troublesome business due to the multiple police incidents there.

The Sure Lock's former owner, Inver Grove Heights businessman Roger Espeseth, repurchased the property from Berres late last month. Espeseth said he's eager to return to the business he owned and operated from 2005 to 2008 - a time when city officials recognized the motel and its owners for efforts to refurbish the site.

"We got together with an attorney and worked out a deal that was going to relieve the situation and allow [Berres] to move on with his life," Espeseth said.

City Administrator Brian Anderson said officials were keen to see a change in ownership at the motel following the most recent police incident that drew law enforcement officials from across the county.

Anderson said officials had been working behind the scenes for two months with Espeseth and attorneys from both sides for two months to find a solution - while at the same time lobbying state lawmakers to seek a change to state law.

The push for a change at the Sure Lock - and in the state law that allowed Berres to own it - came from "the whole community," he said. "There were a bunch of people questioning how he was able to operate out of there" considering his status as a convicted sex offender.

Espeseth said the repurchase agreement allows Berres 60 days to vacate the Sure Lock, where he still resides. More changes are coming to the motel, as well, he said, in an effort to restore the business' good standing with the city of Newport.

Under Berres' management the Sure Lock had gone from a traditional motel filled with short-term guests to what Espeseth called "extended stay" tenants. Long-term stays are "an easier dollar," he said, but also draw more problems.

"We are going to honor those that have been there," Espeseth said. "But as far as this extended stay, if someone wants to rent for a week or two, fine, but we're getting away from the extended stay situation."