By: James J. Berreth
ST. Paul, MINN. (The Metro) – On the 23rd of May, the 2023 legislative session ended here in Minnesota, and any hope for legislation not yet passed by both the House and Senate met its fate in the trash bin of history, so to speak. That is not to say this wasn’t an especially productive session for our government that is presently controlled by a Democratic trifecta – meaning that Democrats control the House, the Senate, and the Governor’s office. What follows is not an exhaustive list of bills that made their way into becoming law, but a rundown of some of the more important new laws.
House File 1/Senate File 1- Abortion Access and Legal Protections-
Let us start with what was the highest priority for Democrats coming into this session, that being the reproductive health rights and access bill which was passed early in the legislative session. A little backstory on this legislative issue; the 2022 US Supreme Court, in the case Dobbs v. Jackson, essentially overturned the landmark abortion rights case of Roe v. Wade (1973) and sent each state scrambling for solutions, some favoring more restrictive access to abortions, and some, like Minnesota, favoring more open access. Here in Minnesota, that meant passing HF1/SF1, which “Protects the Reproductive Options Act,” and “establishes a fundamental right to reproductive health.” There is another segment to abortion access as outlined in HF366/SF165, which offers certain legal protections to those wishing to obtain, or who have obtained an abortion. For instance, this bill limits the release of health records, restricts the enforcement of subpoenas, and prohibits the extradition from Minnesota of persons charged in another state where abortions are illegal. These bills became law on Tues. January 31, 2023, making Minnesota the first state to codify abortion rights.
Previously, abortions were already legal here as the 1995 Minnesota Supreme Court decision known as Doe v. Gomez shows. Adding to this, weeks after the Dobbs ruling from the US Supreme Court, Ramsey County District Judge Thomas Gilligan struck down every provision of the 1995 law, including parental notification and the 24-hour waiting period leaving one to wonder if this new legislation from the DFL was necessary, or if they pushed it through in a vote along party lines just for some national attention.
House File 100/Senate File 73- Legalization of Marijuana-
Next on the list of new laws passed in Minnesota is the ever-popular HF100/SF73, the marijuana legalization legislation. While this is certainly good news for just about everyone who suffers from several physical maladies, it is also good news for those languishing in jail for minor marijuana offenses. Included in the provisions of the new law are pardons for those convicted of misdemeanor offenses. But this is also good for the State of Minnesota and for law enforcement. It is good for Minnesota because, as other states that have legalized marijuana have shown, this new legislation should lead to a windfall in tax revenue. As far as law enforcement is concerned, this new legislation should allow them to focus on more pressing crimes not related to marijuana.
House File 2290/Senate File 2259- Ban on No Knock Warrants-
Speaking of law enforcement, this past legislative session brought about a welcome change in the manner in which police officers conduct search warrants. No longer will they be able to use the so-called no-knock warrants to enter premises, which, after the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Amir Locke and others, has been shown to be a dangerous and reckless method for police to serve a warrant on a suspected criminal.
House File 28/Senate File 26- Voting Restoration for Felons-
Staying within the realm of criminal justice reform, HF28/SF26 (the new law that restores the right to vote for felons who are on probation or parole), was signed into law by Gov. Walz on Fri. March 3, 2023. Sec. Of State Steve Simon, who I interviewed this past January regarding this new legislation, was on hand for the signing ceremony where he was quoted as saying, “I voted. Those are two very powerful words. And I can’t wait to see tens of thousands of newly eligible voters in Minnesota pin this badge of democracy on their chest in the next election.”
House File 15/Senate File 1117- Gun Reform-
Last but certainly not least on my list of new laws in 2023 revolves around – maybe – the most contentious debate of our time, both politically and socially. That topic is, of course, the debate surrounding gun control. Two of the bills that made it into law are HF15/SF1117, the “red flag” law, and HF14/SF1116, the “background checks for private gun sales” law. Taking each in turn, the red flag law is meant to enable those associates of gun owners who fear for the safety of the public, the gun owner, or themselves. The background checks for private gun sales seek to close what many feel are “loopholes” in who is required, and who is not, when purchasing a firearm. Previously, in the State of Minn., anyone looking to sell a firearm could do so without having to pull a background check or provide a bill of sale of any kind on the prospective buyer. This included sales at gun shows throughout the state. In actuality, if one person wanted to sell a gun and another person wanted to buy that gun, previously in Minnesota, there were no restrictions on what either was required to do. Theoretically, both buyer and seller could have shown up, exchanged a gun for cash (or some other form of payment), and then walked away without having said a word.
As a gun owner myself, I welcome these changes.