Omar and Lesch Only No Votes On Ending Terrorist Life Insurance Payouts

America’s first elected Somali representative and a candidate for Attorney General voted against a measure that would allow insurance companies to deny payouts to families of terrorists.

Image Credit: Radio Dalsan

ST. PAUL, Minn. — On Thursday, members of the Minnesota House voted to pass H.F. 1397, a bill which would give life insurance companies the right to deny payouts to beneficiaries whose loved one died while committing an act of terrorism.

In a bipartisan effort, Republicans and Democrats joined together to pass the bill 127-2. Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minneapolis) and John Lesch (D-St.Paul) were the only two lawmakers who voted against the measure.

Lesch, who announced his decision to run for attorney general in April, gave a thorough explanation as to why he voted no.

“[The bill] allows an insurance company, not a court, to decide what constitutes an act of terrorism under the cited statute, and it lowers the burden on that call to preponderance of the evidence,” Lesch told Alpha News.

Lesch gave Alpha News a hypothetical situation:

“In a riot after a hockey championship, a group of fans leave the stadium, and some of them throw bottles and block traffic. In the process, a few (not all) of them deface property in a manner that constitutes a felony (over $1000 in damage). A motorist, frustrated with being blocked in traffic by a group of drunk hockey fans, decides he’s tired of waiting and steps on the gas, running through the crowd, killing one of the revelers (who was not doing anything wrong other than picking the wrong crowd to hang out with, but who would likely have been charged with accessory to Criminal Damage to Property had he survived). Did the dead fan commit an act of terrorism? Most reasonable people would say no. But the bill that passed yesterday would allow an insurance company (who has a financial incentive to deny claims) to decide that it falls under the law which would expressly permit the insurer to deny the claim to the deceased’s grieving widow and family.”

Stating the bill needed to be more specific to protect the intended, Lesch reiterated, “Terrorists should not be able to send life insurance benefits to beneficiaries based on bad faith recent policy purchases. I think we can all agree on that.”

However, the reasoning behind Omar’s no vote, the first Somali woman to be elected to public office in the United States, remains to be seen. Multiple attempts by Alpha News for comment on her decision were not returned.

As reported by Alpha News, then Representative-elect Omar, just a week into her historic victory, had already begun to work on changing the Somali-terrorism perception in Minnesota.

In November, Omar sent a letter to Judge Michael Davis asking for leniency for nine young men who were found guilty of attempting to join the terrorist group ISIS. In her letter, Omar explains, “ long sentencing would, in fact, destroy their lives as mistrust from the community around them would ultimately lead to unproductive lives.”

Omar has been tied to anti-CVE (countering violent extremism) sentiments. CVE, an initiative first introduced by former Minnesota Attorney General Andrew Luger, is a program designed to counter homegrown terrorism. An MPR report states Omar was friends with several young men who left the United States to join Al-Shabab and called them, “happy, young men.” In the same article, Omar shares her skepticism of the CVE program in how it will deter young men and women from joining the terrorist organization.  

H.F. 1397 was introduced by Rep. Joe Hoppe (R-Chaska), in response to the current court case involving the San Bernardino shooter. The shooter, Syed Rizwan Farook took out two life insurance policies totaling $300,000 in the midst of planning the terrorist attack that took 14 lives.

According to an LA Times report, the federal government filed a lawsuit in May 2016 to stop Farook’s mother from receiving the insurance benefits.

The Minnesota Senate is currently in the middle of a second reading of the companion bill.   

Preya Samsundar

Preya Samsundar was born and raised in Minneapolis, MN. She graduated from the University of Minnesota - Twin Cities this Spring with a B.A. in Political Science and Sociology, with a minor in Strategic Communications. Preya has previously worked on several State Campaign Races.