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MN House adds conversion therapy ban to big health bill

Freshman DFL Rep. Hunter Cantrell spoke at a rally at the Minnesota Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. Evan Frost | MPR News

The Minnesota House has taken a stand against conversion therapy, a practice used to try to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.

Lawmakers voted 72-53 Thursday to include a statewide ban of the therapy on minors in a larger health and human services bill.

Under the measure, mental health professionals in Minnesota would be prohibited from engaging in conversion therapy with clients under age 18 or with vulnerable adults.

First-term Rep. Hunter Cantrell, DFL-Savage, spent much of the legislative session pushing for ban. His bill received committee attention but a Senate companion did not. Cantrell said the therapy is “roundly discredited” and harmful to those who undergo it.

“This is something that we can all get behind and we can all be proud of, because I think we can all agree no therapy should harm our children, no therapy should be deceptive,” Cantrell said.

The proposed ban also holds mental health professionals accountable for violations. They could be subject to disciplinary action by their professional licensing board.

Cantrell said the ban is long overdue.

“We have a responsibility to all Minnesotans to make sure that they only receive only the highest quality health care,” he said.

Several Republicans spoke against the amendment.

Rep. Tim Miller, R-Prinsburg, said the practice is not common in the state and is not evil. Miller tried unsuccessfully to add another ban, which would prevent gender transition services for minors.

“Saying someone was born in the wrong body is just plain false. God does not make mistakes.”

Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, said abusive or coercive therapy is wrong. But he believes Cantrell’s proposal goes too far and would threaten religious freedom.

“This threatens churches and other organizations with prosecution for fraud if they offer fee-based services for helping young people or individuals who are struggling with their sexuality,” Gruenhagen said. “I think that’s contrary to the principles that our country was founded on.”

The conversion therapy amendment is part of a 1,100-page bill -- it weighs in at 12 pounds -- for health and human services programs that, among other things, would continue a 2 percent charge on medical procedures, raise the age for buying tobacco products and make revisions to a child care assistance program that has come under heavy scrutiny.

Brian Bakst contributed to this report.

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