A Minnesota House committee held an initial hearing Wednesday on a bill that creates a new felony crime for a parent or guardian who knowingly allows a child to undergo female genital mutilation, an illegal procedure to which some cultures still cling.
Rep. Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, introduced the bill after recent news reports about the genital mutilation of two 7-year-old Minnesota girls. The Detroit-area doctor who allegedly performed the illegal procedure was charged. But the parents who took the girls to Michigan were not.
Franson said Minnesota's law is silent on a parent's role in genital mutilation.
"It's already a crime for doctors to do it. It needs to be a crime for the parents to allow it to happen and to want it to happen and to put their child through that egregious, egregious act."
Under Franson's bill, parents or guardians could face a felony charge, punishable by up to five years in prison. They also face the potential loss of custody. The bill would make it easier for county authorities to remove a child from a home.
With less than three weeks left in the session, a companion bill in the Senate has not yet received a hearing.
Farhio Khalif of Minneapolis appeared before the House Civil Law and Data Practices Policy Committee to testify in support of the bill. She described in horrific detail how she was forced as a little girl in Somalia to undergo a ritual mutilation.
"My legs were tied each side. My hands were tied each side. I was blindfolded, and the ritual took place and it was painful. It was so painful I think I died or maybe I passed away," Khalif recalled. "I don't know what happened. But I remember waking back up, and I see blood all over the place."
Despite bipartisan support for the bill, some Democrats suggested that parents could already be prosecuted without a new law.
Rep. Ilhan Omar, DFL-Minneapolis, said she thinks state lawmakers should be working more closely with prosecutors.
"What I don't want us to do is try to create laws because we want to be able to get in the media. I don't want us to create laws because there is a splashy headline," she said.
Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St. Paul, raised concerns that only Republicans had signed on as co-authors of the bill. Lesch said criminal law bills have traditionally been bipartisan.
Several Republicans on the committee criticized both Omar and Lesch for questioning the motives of their colleague.
"This has absolutely nothing to do with the cameras in the room, with the headlines in the paper," Franson said. "This is about saving children's lives."