House passes bill that makes Minnesota a ‘trans refuge state’

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UPDATE 3/24/23 – Early Friday morning, lawmakers passed a bill at the State Capitol that makes Minnesota a transgender refuge state.

Debate on the measure took hours, with voting happening shortly before 5:30, more than five hours after it was introduced.

The bill — whose chief author is Rep. Leigh Finke (DFL-St. Paul), the state’s first openly transgender legislator — passed by a 68-62 vote, along party lines.

Finke says the measure is meant to protect transgender people, their families and health care providers from legal repercussions if they travel to Minnesota to get gender-affirming care.

Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order two weeks ago with similar protections.

Supporters say this bill would write even stronger protections into state law. Meanwhile, House Republicans say the bill is misguided, and would put children at risk.

Debate happened all night long, and at times, became heated.

“This bill doesn’t impact any Minnesotans… talking about California instead of inflation and crime and interest rates and fentanyl, and workforce, and mental health, housing costs, and the 4th highest taxed state in the nation,” said Rep. Kurt Daudt (R-Crown).

“Rep. Daudt, Rep. Wolgamott has the floor,” said another representative.

“Rep. Daudt is talking about the governor and his character and his motives. He is also definitely not confining his remarks to the question before the body,” said Rep. Dan Wolgamott (DFL-St. Cloud).

A similar version of the House bill is working its way through the Senate.

An earlier version of this report can be found below.

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INITIAL REPORT 3/23/23 – For much of Thursday, those for and against a bill that would make Minnesota a transgender refuge state gathered at the State Capitol.

Supporters of the measure held signs saying, “Trans rights are human rights” and “Stand up, fight back.”

Opponents had their own signs: “No HF 146” and “Protect kids.”

Before debate on the House floor, DFL and Republican lawmakers held dueling news conferences.

“Today is a historic moment at the Minnesota Legislature,” declared Rep. Leigh Fiske, DFL-St. Paul, the bill’s main author.

“It’s a violation of our oath to uphold the U.S. Constitution,” countered Rep. Harry Niska, R-Ramsey.

Finke, the state’s first openly transgender lawmaker, says the bill is meant to protect transgender people, their families, and health care providers from legal repercussions if they travel to Minnesota to get gender-affirming care.

“Withholding or delaying gender-affirming health care can have a dramatic impact on the mental health of any individual,” she told reporters. “Rates of depression, suicide, substance abuse are dramatically higher in transgender and gender expansive individuals who lack access to care.”

Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order two weeks ago with similar language.  

But House Republicans call the measure in the Legislature — which would provide stronger, more permanent protections — misguided and one that puts children at risk.

“HB 146 undermines parental rights, and most concerning, has zero guardrails to protect our kids,” said Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover.

Gender-affirming care includes a wide range of procedures, including hormone treatments, puberty blockers and gender reassessment surgery.

Doctors who work in the field say such surgeries on minors are rare, but Republicans say they’re concerned.

“Our own Mayo Clinic and the NIH have stated the risks involved with hormone treatment, especially pre-puberty,” Scott says. “These treatments can be dangerous and permanent. This bill denies that science.”

There are hundreds of bills under consideration in dozens of other states that could prohibit gender-affirming care.

Republicans argue this measure would prohibit Minnesota from recognizing out-of-state subpoenas.

“It creates a huge legal mess,” Niska says. “It’s going to create legal challenges, and unfortunately, it’s going to put vulnerable kids in the middle of that legal mess.”

But supporters of the bill say Minnesota should be a safe haven for those seeking this care.

A medical director from Children’s Minnesota says their gender health program is already getting calls from families living in states with bans on gender-affirming care.

“These families are scared. They are desperate,” declares Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd. “They are willing to do anything they can to protect the health and well-being of their transgender children. There is an urgency to their calls that is heartbreaking.”

The House floor session began at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, but as of 10 p.m., lawmakers had yet to vote on the bill, which is expected to pass with DFL majority support.