Capitol Wrap: Lawmakers approve licenses for all, restored voting rights for felons before storm hits

Business at the Minnesota Capitol was halted this week by the snowstorm but plenty still happened.

For a quick roundup of the latest developments at the legislature, here is this week’s Capitol Wrap.

  • A bill to ban conversion therapy for children and vulnerable adults passed its first chamber Monday.

The Minnesota House of Representatives voted to approve the legislation Monday night.

While the Minnesota Senate still needs to pass the bill before it can head to Gov. Tim Walz’s desk for his signature, it is slated to get a second reading in the Senate on Monday and could be approved.

Bills to ban conversion therapy have been proposed multiple times in past years. While some individual cities in Minnesota already outlaw the practice, it has yet to be banned statewide. Supporters of a statewide ban say conversion therapy involves many harmful practices that often cause anxiety and depression and can lead to suicide, while opponents of a ban dispute those points. Rep. Harry Niska, R-Ramsey, raised concerns the bill could come with legal liability over First Amendment rights, including freedom of speech and of religion.

  • A bill seeking to help prevent catalytic converter thefts also cleared the House this week.

The bill had wide bipartisan support and now heads to the Minnesota Senate, where it already has a second reading scheduled for Monday.

If approved and signed into law, it would prevent scrap metal dealers from buying catalytic converters that aren’t attached to a vehicle unless they have identifying markings connecting them to a vehicle. It would also require scrap dealers to keep specific information about who they bought it from to help law enforcement.

The bill comes in response to the dramatic rise in catalytic converter thefts over the past couple of years.

  • Legislation to create an Office of Missing and Murdered Black Women is headed to the Senate after getting approval from the House.

State representatives passed the bill with wide support from both parties.

In the 2021 session, the legislature created a Task Force on Missing and Murdered African American Women to look at the leading causes of violence affecting them and recommend policies in response.

Officials say the creation of a dedicated office, just like the one the state has for missing and murdered Indigenous people, will provide more focus on the cases of Black women and girls.

RELATED: Conversion therapy, catalytic converter prevention, MMBW bills pass Minnesota House

  • The Minnesota Senate gave final approval to a bill that will allow Minnesotans to get a driver’s license or state identification card without needing to show proof of legal presence in the U.S.

The Senate passed the bill early Wednesday morning. The House passed the bill last month, so it will now head to the governor’s desk for his signature.

Supporters of the legislation say it will break down barriers to getting a job or housing and make roads safer. Opponents have called it an “all-access pass” for illegal immigrants and say it can lead to voter fraud.

  • A bill to restore the voting rights of felons who’ve served their incarceration time cleared its last hurdle Tuesday night.

The Senate passed the bill known as the “Restore the Vote Act,” sending it to Walz for his signature.

The governor is expected to sign the bill, meaning Minnesota will join 21 other states that automatically restore felons’ voting rights when they’re released.

Democrats say the current law disproportionately impacts people of color. Republicans sought to have a two-year waiting period before restoring felons’ voting rights and tried to exclude certain violent criminals, but their amendments failed.

RELATED: Senate passes felon voting rights, driver’s license bills, both headed to governor

Several other bills — including the bill to legalize recreational marijuana, a paid family and medical leave bill, and legislation to make Minnesota a refuge for transgender residents — all had committee hearings this week and continued to progress through the Legislature.

The prospects for legalizing sports betting also took a big step forward this week, and a bill to require ticket price and fee transparency was introduced.

Plus, Gov. Walz signed two bills into law this week: A bill to have Minnesota Management and Budget include inflation in budget forecasts and another authorizing the Department of Natural Resources to improve state park and recreation area boundaries and properly transfer county and state lands.

Follow those and several other hot-button bills throughout the session with our Legislative Tracker.

Click here to read last week’s Capitol Wrap.