Policy in Progress - a brief look into the bills affecting Minnesota survivors
Updated: Jun 5, 2019
Sojourner intern, Toria is currently pursuing a Masters in Clinical Social Work through Boston University. She has been at Sojourner, working primarily with women and children residing in Sojourner Shelter, since January.
Every year, both federally and at the state level, there are a range of bills introduced during the legislative session that have a distinct possibility to affect the lives of those who live as survivors of domestic violence (DV) and sexual assault (SA), and those in social service agencies who work with them. Having a basic understanding of these bills is essential as changes in policy can significantly influence the work completed with these populations.
After attending the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA)’s Action Day at the capitol this past spring, it became evident that there is a lot more in progress than I would have originally thought. Having just begun working in the DV field upon starting my internship at Sojourner, I was not really aware of all the different places that DV and SA policy touches. However, as I have learned over and over again throughout my courses, and now through a first-hand experience during this internship, policy really matters. It isn’t something that should be overlooked in the course of social services. It isn’t something that should be disregarded due to its complex nature. Policy is a big deal and should be treated as such.
Treating policy like a big deal definitely isn’t as easy as it sounds. Bills seem to be laden with jargon and pages of information that feel overwhelming. Everyone is busy and reading an entire brief doesn’t always meet the number one, or even number two priority. Therefore, a brief overview of the most important bills surrounding DV and SA is a useful way to stay in the loop. The following bills outlined below were designated as most important to MNCASA during their Action Day in March. Updates now that the 2018 Legislative session has concluded are included.
HF4247/SF2958 – Position of Authority
This bill was introduced in order to create a “look-back” period for sexual relationships with a minor. The “look-back” period would be 120 days after the position of authority ended. A position of authority could be obvious (teacher, coach) or less obvious (mentor). This would mean that repercussions would still exist for those who engaged in relationships with minors after their position of authority ended. This bill unfortunately did not see any other progress after it was introduced.
HF3017/SF2863 – Rape Kit Handling
MNCASA completed significant work with SA survivors to determine which parts of the forensic exam kit process could be improved. One thing that was really important to survivors was knowing more about the process of their kit--had it been submitted for testing, had DNA been collected from the kit, what were the next steps? There also was not concrete guidelines for the groups completing the kit collection and law enforcement bringing the kits for testing. Therefore, the bill added stipulations for these groups; kits must be picked up by law enforcements within 10 days and kits must be submitted within 60 days. This bill was passed and signed by the governor before the end of the legislative session.
HF3304/SF3067 – Prevention Program
This bill was generated to try to create a focus on prevention programs for DV and SA. It would build up some funding and grants for nonprofits to generate their own prevention programs within their existing programs for additional classes, trainings, and community awareness events. There would also be an evaluation piece that would help ensure that the prevention programs would be running in an effective and appropriate way in response to community needs. This bill also unfortunately failed during the legislative session.
HF3465/SF3139 – Voluntary Relationship Statue Repeal
As of present, Minnesota does not have a stipulation that sexual misconduct has occurred if the perpetrator and the victim are considered to be in a voluntary relationship at the time of the incident. This is also known as the “marital rape loophole”. This bill would eliminate this so that sexual assault or rape allegations against people within a voluntary relationship would not be dismissed. Unfortunately, this bill also had no action taken on it after introduction.
As one can see, there was not a significant amount of progress made on the bills that specifically pertained to DV and SA during this past legislative session. One big breakthrough though was the passing of the Rape Kit Handling bill. Having a concrete system set up for tracking the progress of kits is a major breakthrough in helping survivors feel empowered throughout a very difficult situation as well as providing necessary accountability.
What you can do:
While the legislative session is complete for the year, momentum is still needs to be built for the future. Getting involved is as easy as you want it to be. A great starting place is learning who your state legislators are. Visiting https://www.gis.leg.mn/iMaps/districts/ is a quick way to find your district’s representative and senator. From there, you can call their office, send a letter in support/opposition to a bill, or email your representative with your ideas. Further, you can participate in Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October, and Sexual Assault Awareness Month activities throughout April. Most importantly, use your voice to raise awareness and support survivors by speaking out about these issues and promoting violence prevention and healthy recovery from trauma.