Politics and Government

Minnesota House delays vote on equal rights amendment after prolonged debate on other bills

Crowd in Capitol building
Supporters and opponents of an equal rights constitutional amendment filled the Capitol in St. Paul on Monday ahead of a House vote on the proposal.
Dana Ferguson | MPR News

Updated 11:15 p.m.

Plans in the Minnesota House to vote on a proposed equal rights amendment were sidetracked Monday night by prolonged debate over other bills, underscoring the difficulty majority Democrats could face in getting priorities passed with time winding down.

DFL leaders had hoped to move ahead with the bill on a proposed constitutional amendment that would seal in state protections for race, sex and gender identity among others.

The bill would put a question before voters in 2026 asking whether they support barring discrimination based on a person’s race, class, sex, gender identity or “decisions about all matters relating to one’s own pregnancy or decision whether to become or remain pregnant.”

The bill’s supporters said it’s crucial to guarantee the protections in the state’s constitution to ensure that they last the test of time. Opponents, meanwhile, say the bill is deceptive because it spells out protections for pregnancy in the language that would come before voters, but it doesn’t detail the coverage it would provide for those who access abortion, in vitro fertilization or other pregnancy outcomes.

Frustration by DFLers was evident as they got caught up in longer-than-anticipated debates over other legislation. Rep. Emma Greenman, DFL-Minneapolis, saw discussion of her two-page consumer fee bill span more than seven hours.

“As I think we often say if there's anybody out there listening, which I'm sure at this point, there is not,” she said at the end of the long debate. “But they have seen the college try of my colleagues across the aisle trying to make something very simple seem very complicated.”

Republicans were unapologetic.

“This isn't ready for primetime,” said Rep. Jeff Dotseth, R-Kettle River.

But the extended discussion — and another on an elections policy bill — served another purpose. Republicans have made no secret they oppose the DFL-crafted ERA bill and were planning to spend many hours working to block it.

Now that showdown will be pushed to later in the week, consuming more time when the session countdown is down to a handful of days.

If approved, Minnesota would have the most expansive equal rights amendment in the country. 

Crowd in Capitol building
Supporters and opponents of an equal rights constitutional amendment filled the Capitol in St. Paul on Monday, May 13, 2024.
Dana Ferguson | MPR News

The Minnesota Senate approved a different version of the bill last year. And it’s not clear whether the proposal moving in the House would have the support needed to pass this year. Both chambers would have to approve the same wording to put it in front of Minnesota voters.

DFL lawmakers and advocates who’d spent decades urging the passage of the equal rights amendment said the House vote was long overdue. They said Monday that while the Legislature took strides last year in guaranteeing legal protections for people seeking abortion and gender-affirming care in Minnesota — as well as those who provide the services — there need to be more permanent safeguards in place.

“That is what we’re here to do today, to make sure that these protections can never be taken away, no matter who is in charge. No matter which judges we appoint, we are going to have these protections enshrined in our Constitution,” said House Majority Leader Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis.

The measure has already attracted opposition from conservative groups. The anti-abortion group Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life has launched a seven-figure ad campaign aimed at blocking it in the Legislature and to work on building public opposition if it gets to voters.

House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, said the proposal was a solution in search of a problem because many of the protections are already spelled out in state law. She said ahead of a floor vote that lawmakers should block the bill.

“The language that is being proposed is not transparent. It is not clear,” Demuth told MPR News. “It is couching a priority that the Democrats have in a way that Minnesota voters would really have to be aware of.”

Demuth said she planned to bring amendments that would offer protections based on age and religion. Supporters have said the state and federal constitutions already guarantee protections for religion.

Crowd in Capitol building
Supporters and opponents of an equal rights constitutional amendment filled the Capitol in St. Paul on Monday.
Dana Ferguson | MPR News

Supporters and opponents have said they expect that the public campaign around the amendment would be pricey. 

Minnesotans who support the amendment, as well as opponents, gathered outside the House chamber on Monday morning ahead of the debate. Supporters hoisted green “Yes on ERA” signs and chanted about the bill passing this year. Opponents wore red and raised signs that called for lawmakers to “Stop the ERA.”

Mara Glubka stood outside the chamber with a group urging the bill’s passage. Glubka is a transgender woman from Richfield and has been advocating for the measure for six years.

“I like very much that it includes me, and people like me. And it says that explicitly,” Glubka said. “A few years ago, that language was negotiated out. So right, and right now we’re sitting on an equal rights amendment that is the most inclusive in all of the United States. I don’t know, I couldn’t ask for more than that, really.”

Genevieve Moellring, of Farmington, hoisted her sign opposing the bill and said she didn’t appreciate that the measure would offer protections for people seeking abortions.

“I just personally, I don’t believe in abortion,” she said. “Because I believe God has appointed that life from the very beginning. And it’s wrong of us as human beings who’ve tried to substitute ourselves as God Almighty.”

Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said last week that DFL leaders are aligned on their aims for the legislation but haven’t yet reached an agreement on the best approach.

“We’re rooted in the same values with the same goals. And that’s what we have to iron out,” she said.

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