Lawmakers move to criminalize groping

It's not considered criminal sexual conduct in Minnesota to “intentionally” touch someone's clothing on and around their buttocks, but a bill moving in the state Senate would change that. 

The Senate Judiciary Committee approved a proposal Tuesday to eliminate a more than 30-year-old exemption that allowed the behavior in the state's sexual conduct laws. The exception was originally added because lawmakers thought criminal penalties were too severe.

But a push to eliminate the exemption began last year after women came forward with stories of sexual harassment as part of the #MeToo movement. Two legislators resigned from office in 2017 after being accused of repeated sexual advances on women.

Under the bill, authored by Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, touching someone on the buttocks over their clothing on purpose would be considered 5th-degree criminal sexual conduct. A first-time violation would be a gross misdemeanor and carry a  punishment of up to one year in prison, a $3,000 fine or both.

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The proposal passed the House and Senate last year and was tucked into a larger, omnibus budget bill. But former DFL Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed that bill after session adjourned because it contained other provisions he didn’t support.

Supporters of the change hope things will go smoother this year.

“We appreciate it being put together early in session as part of one bill and hopefully passed through fairly quickly and easily, as it’s all been heard previously,” said Lindsay Brice, an attorney with the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Limmer’s bill makes other changes to the state’s criminal sexual conduct codes, including repealing a martial rape exception that protected people from prosecution in some cases of criminal sexual misconduct involving their spouse.