by T.W. Budig
ECM Capitol reporter
Rep. Steve Simon, DFL-Hopkins, saw his child victims’ bill pass the House on a 115-7 vote this week. But it was not without emotional debate.
The high-profile bill deals with childhood sexual abuse and the amount of time victims have in filing legal action.
Childhood sex abuse victims, besides speak of lingering emotional scars, express frustration over existing statues of limitations. As a result of a State Supreme Court ruling, abuse victims have six years after becoming an adult, until age 24, to take legal action. But victims speak of psychologically burying their abuse, the painful incidents not surfacing until later in life.
Under Simon’s bill, adult victims of sexual abuse still have the six-year window to file. But in cases of childhood sexual abuse, legal actions may commence at any time. In cases of past abuse, the bill provides a three-year window for victims to take legal action.
“It’s limited. It’s not forever liability,” Simon said.
Rep. Mary Liz Holberg, R-Lakeville, found one provision in the legislation galling. It limits the amount of time victims of childhood sexual abuse have to take action against alleged perpetrators when the perpetrator is another minor.
“We have a ‘Sophie’s Choice’ in the bill,” Holberg said of the House floor.
By voting for the bill, they’re accepting a bad provision. By not voting for the bill, they’ll get politically hammered for turning their backs on abuse victims, she argued. Simon should never have brought the bill to the House floor and forced such a vote, Holberg said.
“We get a red or we get a green (vote),” Holberg said of the options.
He was with Holberg in spirit, Simon said, but “I have to count votes.”
He had to make “painful and significant concessions,” said Simon, in getting the bill through committee. Still, Simon depicted the bill as offering a solution to a lingering problem.
Holberg’s motion to send the legislation back to committee failed, and the bill was passed.
Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, is carrying companion legislation in the Senate.
As of Friday, May 3, Latz’s bill had not yet hit the Senate floor.
Medical marijuana legislation rolled out
It’s a matter of quality of life in the final days, Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, said.
Hackbarth, alongside Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing, appeared at a State Capitol press conference Thursday, May 2, to rollout medical marijuana legislation. Hackbarth is a long-time supporter of allowing the critically ill to obtain medical marijuana to relieve pain, symptoms or otherwise make end of life more tolerable.
“This isn’t a partisan issue,” Hackbarth said. “And believe it or not, Republicans have a heart and have compassion as well,” he said.
Joni Whiting of Jordan, a grandmother and an advocate for medical marijuana use, spoke of her daughter Stephanie Whiting, who developed facial skin cancer.
“They cut her face off, one inch at a time, until there was really nothing left,” Whiting said, hanging a graphic photo of her daughter on the podium.
A doctor suggested her daughter use medical marijuana — Stephanie wasn’t eating, Whiting explained.
Personally, she then found the idea of using marijuana unacceptable, she said. For one thing, there was the risk of getting arrested, she said. But her other children spirited Stephanie away for three days for Stephanie to use medical marijuana, Whiting said. When her daughter came back home, Whiting was surprised how much better she looked.
Indeed, Whiting believes the use of medical marijuana prolonged her daughter’s life for three months, she said, so she would rather have gone to jail than deny her daughter medical marijuana.
Hackbarth and others at the press conference wore red buttons with the slogan, “Stop arresting patients.”
Melin, an attorney, described the medical marijuana legislation as tightly written. It would allow for three dispensaries in Hennepin County, two in Ramsey, and one in each county for the rest of the state.
Supporters estimate about 2,000 Minnesotan would obtain prescriptions for the use of medical marijuana.
Medical marijuana legislation passed the Legislature during the Pawlenty Administration but was vetoed, Hackbarth said.
In general, law enforcement officials do not support the legislation. Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton looks to law enforcement for guidance on the issue.
“If the advocates could work out an agreement with law enforcement, then the governor would consider it,” Dayton Press Secretary Katharine Tinucci said in an email.
Melin, who comes from a family of law enforcement officials, said members of law enforcement do not have medical training. She believes medical issues should be left to those who have.
Whiting looks to Dayton to lead.
The legislation is being rolled out now, Hackbarth said, to be set for the next legislative session.
No gun debate on the House floor this session
Those favoring closing the so-called gun show loophole, or other changes to state gun law, suffered a setback this week when House Speaker Paul Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, announced the Democratic-led House will not take up gun legislation this session.
Thissen told the Associated Press that neither side in the debate was willing to come to a reasonable middle ground. Hence, he didn’t believe a bill could pass the House.
Not everyone was surprised by the speaker’s decision.
The gun rights advocates in the House, such as Rep. David Dill, DFL-Crane Lake and Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, who said he was not surprised by Thissen’s conclusion, have been working across the aisle, “lining up our votes,” Hackbarth said.
“So we knew, early on, if we could hold everyone together, we could defeat it,” Hackbarth said.
Rep. Tim Faust, DFL-Hinckley, also wasn’t surprised by the Speaker’s decision.
“I think most of the rural Democrats were opposed to that,” he said of pursuing gun law changes. “So when you start counting votes, it’s ‘Umm, there’s not enough,’” Faust said.
Faust, who earlier in the session warned of the rise of those favoring changing gun laws as overreaching, thought that’s what happened.
“They wanted more than they could pass,” he said. Faust guesses that he received 300 to 500 emails regarding proposed gun legislation. They overwhelmingly ran opposed.
“I think I got two in favor,” he said. “That’s the way my district is.”
House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee Chairman Michael Paymar, DFL-St. Paul, was unhappy with the Speaker’s decision.
“I’m very disappointed and angry with what happened,” said Paymar, whose committee held high-profile hearings on gun legislation and who personally favors closing the perceived gun-show loophole.
Thissen was breaking a promise, Paymar said. That is, there would be debate on background checks and there would be floor vote, he said.
“And that didn’t happen,” Paymar said. “I think it’s the kind of thing that makes people more cynical with politicians and the political process. But we’ll live to fight another day.”
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton favors universal gun background checks.
Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, is carrying gun legislation in the Senate.
The Senate so far has not debated gun control on the Senate floor. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, in recent media comments, indicated that if the House doesn’t take up gun legislation this session, it was unlikely the Senate would.
Dayton appoints MNsure Board; talks of Shakopee rudeness
Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton announced his MNsure Board selections this week — there were 112 applicants for six slots, the governor said.
The board, which includes the Human Services Commissioner, oversees the newly created MNsure health insurance exchange. Dayton considers Minnesota and two other states “on the cutting edge” in insurance exchanges.
When asked whether any Republicans are among the board members, Dayton said, “We didn’t ask.” One board member self-identified as Republican.
On other matters, Dayton said he didn’t know what strategy the Democratic-led Senate was taking in regard to the bonding bill. In committee, Democratic senators have suggested there won’t be any this year — both the governor and the Democratic-led House have advanced bills.
“We’re going to work it out,” Dayton said.
On taxes, Dayton said he “strongly opposed” expanding the state sales tax to clothing and opposed a sales tax expansion in general.
In a comment that sent opinion writers to their laptops, Dayton described the Shakopee audience that attended a recent “Meetings with Mark” session as “juvenile.” There was the kind of growling undertone that he saw in New York City as a teacher, Dayton explained. Audience members took the floor and wouldn’t stop talking, he explained.
Dayton said he expects, and welcomes, disagreement.
But the behavior of the Shakopee audience was “rude.”
Tim Budig can be reached at [email protected]