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Minnesota Legislature’s first bills: Requiring hands-free cell phone use and gender equity amendment

The House floor is seen during the first day of the 2019 session of the Minnesota Legislature at the State Capitol in St. Paul on Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. John Autey / St. Paul Pioneer Press

ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers spent the first two days of the new legislative session detailing their top priorities, but there’s a lot of other things they also want to do.

During short floor sessions in the House and Senate on Thursday, Jan. 10, lawmakers introduced a total 122 bills. The first 10 in the House and the first five in the Senate encompass what Republicans and Democrats say are the most pressing needs facing the state.

They may disagree on the solutions, but both parties say they want safer schools, cheaper and more accessible health care and resources to fix roads and bridges.

There’s also other things on lawmakers’ to-do lists. Some are guaranteed to be controversial and others may never get a hearing.

Here’s a few of the more interesting proposals:

Hands-free cell phone use

Legislation to require drivers to use hands-free technology when talking on their cellphones while behind the wheel has re-emerged at the Capitol after stalling last session. The issue has bipartisan support and all four legislative leaders from the two chambers predicted that it would pass.

There remains questions about what the penalty would be and that could be a deal breaker for some lawmakers. The bill introduced in the Senate includes fines between $150 to $500 depending on how many times a driver has been caught.

Gender equity amendment

Several DFL House members are sponsoring a bill to put a constitutional amendment on the 2020 ballot. It would add a line to article one of the state constitution that says: “Equity under the law shall not be abridged or denied on account of gender.”

Constitutional amendments need to pass both chambers to get on the ballot.

Ban on ‘conversion therapy’

Bills introduced in both chambers would outlaw what is commonly known as “conversion therapy” that aims to change the sexual orientation of gays and lesbians.

Fourteen other states already prohibit the practice that has been discredited by the medical community and described as psychological abuse by people who have gone through it.

Stopping clothed butt-grabbing

It’s not illegal in Minnesota to touch someone’s clothed backside without their consent. Lawmakers tried to change that last year, but the measure got tied up in a veto fight over other issues.

The bill is back again this year in the Senate with both Republican and Democratic support.

Covering 'gender dysphoria' treatments

A bill in the Senate would require insurance providers to cover sex reassignment surgery when “medically necessary.”

The bill would also provide coverage for medications used to treat “gender dysphoria” — what the American Psychiatric Association says is “a conflict between a person’s physical or assigned gender and the gender with which he/she/they identify.”

The bill says such drugs could be included in an insurance plan’s coverage if it is approved by the USDA, is recommended for such treatments and there isn’t another treatment that’s already covered.

More bills coming

Plenty of other proposals are yet to come, including massive spending bills dealing with a two-year state budget.

During the 2017-18 legislative session more than 4,000 bills were introduced in both the House and Senate.