Amendment to ‘trans refuge’ bill fails amid GOP absences

Sen. Jim Abeler sought to delete language from the bill after consulting with judges and attorneys specializing in child protection services proceedings who said it would be problematic.

Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, offered an amendment during debate over the legislation, HF146, that he hoped would eliminate legal confusion. (Minnesota Senate Media Services/YouTube)

Does a “trans refuge” bill that passed in the Minnesota Senate on Friday contain language that could unintentionally drag Minnesota families into child protection services proceedings if someone reports a parent has refused to seek puberty blockers or hormone replacement therapy for their child who claims to want it?

Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, offered an amendment during debate over the legislation, HF146, he hoped would eliminate legal confusion over that possibility. But that amendment narrowly failed after four of his fellow Republicans failed to cast a vote on it.

Democrat senators ultimately passed the overall bill on a party-line 34-30 vote. Last month it passed in the House of Representatives. Gov. Tim Walz has promised to sign it.

The bill becomes law the day after it receives the governor’s signature. Minnesota will join Colorado, Illinois, Maryland and New Mexico as “trans refuge” states.

Proponents of the Minnesota legislation say it’s intended to prevent other states from interfering with minors in Minnesota receiving “gender-affirming health care” treatments, such as puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy, or even mastectomies.

Upper Midwest a legislative battleground over issue

Sen. Erin Maye Quade, DFL-Apple Valley, who authored the Senate version, stressed the importance of passing the bill after recent legislation passed in Iowa, North Dakota and South Dakota, and nine others states, that would prevent health care professionals from administering puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy to minors. During an animated Senate floor speech, Maye Quade intimated the legislation in those states and others across the nation are part of a conspiracy among “anti-LGBTQ hate groups [who] finally found their new strategy — targeting transgender people.”

“We’ve gone from banning trans girls from playing kickball to banning gender-affirming care, to ‘this state is going to take away your children if you allow them to access gender-affirming care,'” Maye Quade said. “States across this country have taken shocking action to target and harm, and ultimately — because they have said it — to get rid of transgender people”

But Abeler, who took exception to Maye Quade’s rhetoric, said on Friday that one of her “trans refuge” bill’s provisions would place Minnesota families at risk of being caught up in child protection services proceedings.

For that reason he sought to delete a section of the bill that adds language to state statute indicating a court of this state has “temporary emergency jurisdiction” if a child is present in Minnesota “and the child has been unable to obtain gender-affirming health care.”

Abeler told his Senate colleagues he consulted with a number of judges and attorneys familiar with child custody law and they informed him the section would be problematic, regardless of the author’s intent or belief that it wouldn’t impact Minnesota families and only pertains to child custody disputes involving other states. He said the bill would still serve its intent without that controversial section.

“There is every reasonable belief that in a situation where a coach or a social worker or a doctor says, ‘Oh, this person needs this,’ they become a [mandated] reporter of some kind and a case develops if they make a complaint and that complaint is now going to be elevated to this court,” Abeler said.

“What this is doing is declaring that the failure to be provided gender-affirming care is something to be protected from,” he added. “It’s unclear how it’s going to be implemented but it’s in the section that requires emergency action.”

Maye Quade then claimed Abeler was ill-informed and said he should report those judges and attorneys he consulted with to the Minnesota Bar Association.

Four GOP senators did not cast votes on Abeler amendment

Abeler’s amendment failed by a three-vote margin, 33-30, when 33 DFL senators voted against the amendment and 29 Republican senators voted for the amendment. Sen. John Hoffman, DFL-Champlin, cast a vote in favor of the amendment. Four Republican senators did not vote: Julia Coleman of Waconia, Rich Draheim of Madison Lake, Karin Housley of Stillwater, and Carla Nelson of Rochester.

Those non-votes from Coleman, Draheim, Housley and Nelson came despite 11 other Republicans and six DFLers who voted under Rule 40.7, which allows a senator to cast a vote remotely. While Coleman did later vote in opposition to the overall bill, Draheim, Housley and Nelson also failed to cast a final vote before the bill passed.

Rachel Aplikowski, media relations director for the Senate GOP, told Alpha News that Housley was in Detroit for a legislative conference while Coleman had prescheduled appointments. She said Fridays are not usually floor days.

“People shouldn’t try to score more political points over this. Many of our members had conflicts with today’s floor schedule that were scheduled long ago. They are either excused, or voting remotely as their schedule allows,” she said.

The minority party doesn’t have control over the floor schedule and doesn’t always receive enough notice to arrange for childcare or make changes to their work and travel plans, Aplikowski explained.

Last month the House passed the same bill on a vote of 68-62, with one DFLer, Rep. Gene Pelowski, voting against the bill. House members who did not cast a vote include: Rep. Brian Daniels, R-Faribault, Rep. Debra Kiel, R-Crookston, Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, and Rep. Dave Lislegard, DFL-Aurora.

Other bills that passed in the Senate on Friday include a ban on conversion therapy for minors and a bill that protects pregnant women seeking abortions in Minnesota from legal action by other states where the procedure is illegal.

“Rather than focusing on issues that unite us and working together to find bipartisan support to help kids and families, Democrats are putting issues that divide at the forefront of their agenda,” Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, said in a statement. “It’s a reminder one-party rule in St. Paul is driving us down a divisive and highly partisan policy road that isn’t focused on solving problems for Minnesotans.”


Hank Long

Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.