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Minnesota House OKs increased female genital mutilation penalties

Minnesota Sens. Carla Nelson of Rochester and Bruce Anderson of Buffalo talk during a Senate session Monday, May 15, 2017. Nelson returned to the Senate Monday after spending days with her ailing father. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 2
The Minnesota House chamber door stands open Monday, May 15, 2017, during a break in debate. Lawmakers are preparing for a May 22 adjournment. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 2

ST. PAUL—Protecting young Minnesota girls from what is known as female genital mutilation has gained strong state House support.

"This is gender violence," Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, said Monday, May 15, before representatives voted 124-4 to get tough on the practice.

It was an emotional debate. "I cried myself to sleep" Sunday night in anticipation of the debate, Franson said.

She drew up the legislation after a report that parents of two 7-year-old Minnesota girls took them to Michigan for a procedure that in some societies commonly is done to young girls' genitalia.

The debate came as most attention focused on wrapping up a state budget.

The House and Senate spent Monday afternoon debating five budget bills they already had debated and sent them to a governor who promises to veto each one of them. He vetoed the first five budget measures Friday, May 12.

The governor said he would return to budget talks with legislative leaders once he was done vetoing the unacceptable bills.

Legislative leaders and Gov. Mark Dayton plan to meet at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday, May 16, and continue talking off and on throughout the rest of the week as they try to decide how the state will spend $46 billion over the next two years.

"I ask you to consider this bill as the first step in negotiations," Senate Public Safety Chairman Warren LImmer, R-Maple Grove, said about his measure to fund public safety and court programs.

While the public safety bill and other budget measures passed mostly on party-line divisions, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed, Franson's bill gained overwhelming support.

"It's going to save lives," she said.

The bill increases penalties for people, including parents, involved in the mutilations, with up to 20 years in prison and $30,000 fines.

The sponsor of a similar Senate bill said she expects senators to debate it this week.

"This bill makes it clear this is not acceptable," Rep. Debra Hilstrom, D-Brooklyn Center, said of the procedure that has been practiced in 37 countries..

"To me, this bill is a very drastic step," said Rep. Susan Allen, D-Minneapolis.

The measure could make the situation worse, she said, because it likely would remove children from their families.

Franson countered that the procedure leaves "a lifelong health issue and psychological issue."

The main job of the legislative session is to pass a two-year budget. It faces a Monday, May 22, constitutional deadline to wrap up, but could be called back into a special session if not done.

Health and human services spending, especially money going to help low-income Minnesotans get health care, costs too much, House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said, and Republicans are trying to keep down spending.

"That is why we have so much pressure and constraints on the rest of the budget ..." he said.

Daudt said he knows the current GOP $1.15 billion tax cut plan will not survive at that size as money is sought to spend on programs Dayton wants.

Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, said the tax cut number "is the line that is going to move," but he supports a strong tax bill.

While some say Dayton and leaders need to move fast, Daudt recalled that two years ago no overall deal was reached until Friday night before the Monday adjournment deadline. "We still got it done, but it wasn't optimum."

"You can get a lot done over a weekend," Baker added. "I am glad there are 24 hours in a day."

The House on Monday released a new $800 million public works funding bill, larger than its first, but smaller than what the Senate and Dayton propose.

The public works bill, to be funded by the state selling bonds, is expected to be debated by the full House on Wednesday.

One of the major additions to a smaller, earlier bonding plan is $70 million to improve patient and staff safety at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.