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Minnesota House passes "trans refuge" legislation after late-night debate

“Trans refuge” legislation heading to Gov. Walz’s desk
“Trans refuge” legislation heading to Gov. Walz’s desk 02:12

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- The Minnesota House early Friday morning approved a bill supporters say will make Minnesota a "refuge" for transgender people.

The vote was 68-62 and came following hours of debate on other legislation, which stretched the floor session from Thursday afternoon until after 5 a.m. Friday morning.

The roll of votes in the Minnesota House Minnesota House of Representatives

"In the staggering rise of anti-transgender and anti-LGBTQIA2S+ legislation by extremist Republicans, Minnesota is a beacon of hope for trans and gender-expansive children and their families," Rep. Leigh Finke, DFL-St. Paul, said. "The passing of the Trans Refuge bill will send a strong message to the trans community that they are loved, supported, and protected here in our state."

Finke, the bill's author, is the first openly transgender person elected to the Minnesota Legislature.

Democrats pushing the legislation forward say it will protect trans patients and providers of gender-affirming care from legal action in other states where such care is banned or restricted, creating a safe haven in Minnesota. It's structured similarly to a proposal that passed the House earlier this week that works as a "shield law" for people seeking and providing abortions at a time when laws vary after the fall of Roe v. Wade.

"We have a responsibility to create more space for our communities to live their fullest authentic lives without fear of violence, rejection, abuse or political attack," Finke said.

The legislation prohibits enforcing out-of-state subpoenas, arrest warrants and extradition requests for people from other states who sought treatment that is legal in Minnesota. It also bars complying with court orders elsewhere to remove children from their parents' custody for getting gender-affirming care.

This comes as states across the country are targeting gender-affirming care. Eight now prohibit it for minors, including Iowa and South Dakota, according to an analysis by the Human Rights Campaign. Some policies are blocked in court and other states are considering their own bills. 

Republicans ahead of the floor debate held a news conference condemning Democrats' "transgender health care sanctuary state," arguing it runs afoul of the U.S. Constitution and puts children at risk.

They raised concern about the long-term impact of certain treatments.

"House File 146 undermines parental rights and most concerningly has zero guardrails to protect our kids," said Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover. "It allows children, regardless of age, to receive radical medical treatments.

Many medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, support youth access to care, which doctors say means something different to each patient and family.

Dr. Angela Kade Goepferd, medical director of Children's Minnesota's Gender Health Program, told reporters that gender-affirming care that involves surgical procedures is "incredibly rare" for minors under 18 and physicians at Children's Minnesota do not perform such surgeries.

"The vast majority of gender-affirming care is medication-based or supportive services for families," she said.  

The legislation has to pass the Senate before it would move to Gov. Tim Walz, who intends to sign it. It cleared its final committee in that chamber Friday afternoon, setting it up for a floor vote.

Walz recently signed an executive order designed to protect gender-affirming care.

Finke told reporters on Thursday ahead of the floor vote that the governor's action recognizes the "urgency" around threats to trans people, but enshrining protections into law makes them stronger.

"It's just absolutely crucial that we keep doing this work to build these protections and not worry about what could happen in the future. We need a law behind it," she said. 

A separate bill cleared a House committee Friday that would expand the state's hate crime law to include bias against a person for their gender identity or gender expression.

Thirty years ago Minnesota was the first state to expressly prohibit discrimination against trans people in its Human Rights Act.

Voters next year might also get a chance to enshrine protections for people from discrimination in the state constitution.

The proposed Equal Rights Amendment would add language to the Minnesota Constitution to say that "equality under the law shall not be abridged or denied" on account of race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, disability, ancestry, or national origin.

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