Discussing Domestic Violence and Homeless Youth at Legislature

Rep. Kristin Bahner (DFL–37B) 

January 24 — Rep. Kristin Bahner (DFL–37B) introduced HF424 to the House Public Safety and Finance Committee, in order to expand the definition of crimes associated with domestic violence.

In her statement she said, “1 in 3 women, and 1 in 9 men, will be a victim of domestic abuse; 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner.”

She talked about people she has met in her community who have faced domestic violence. “A woman who feared for the safety of her daughter and her grandchildren after escaping her husband. I met the founder of Love Conquers Violence, formed by the tragic death of Natalie Beissel, a graduate of St. Olaf, eighth in her class in med school. I met Lissa and Bill Pugh, who started Maria’s Voice, after the loss of their daughter Maria to a man who had a pattern of partner violence that went unchecked. Too much sadness and pain. When I was approached about yet another community member in harm’s way, I was compelled to act.”

Bahner noted that “in 2008, the legislature updated the list of pre-qualifying offenses around domestic violence, adding 1st and 2nd degree murder, while a second bipartisan bill, adding 1st and 2nd degree manslaughter, failed to be included in the final bill. Today we seek to rectify that omission by adding these offenses, which have a direct bearing on a case in my community, and adding three other serious domestic violence–related offenses: kidnapping, false imprisonment, and burglary with assault.”

Eric Werner, Chief of Police for the City of Maple Grove, and a police officer for nearly 35 years, testified on behalf of the bill. “I supervise a special team responsible for the prevention and investigation of domestic violence incidents. Unfortunately, in Maple Grove we have experienced those types of incidents, particularly with the Pugh family. Including the additional crimes will assist police and prosecutors in understanding the most accurate information of an abuser’s history and to hold them accountable.”

He shared information from “2021 Homicide Report: Relationship Abuse in Minnesota,” the annual compilation by Violence Free Minnesota: “At least 12 perpetrators in 2021 had documented histories of violence against their current and former partner’s children or partner’s family members. In some cases, there may be a history of violence against a previous or subsequent partner, as well and up to and including homicide.”

Detective Kate Damm has been a Maple Grove police officer for seven years. She is currently a detective assigned to the investigative division, and has been a member of the Domestic Violence Response Team since 2018. “We monitor behavior escalation patterns and we work with victims to connect them to community resources, provide support, and partner with them to prevent future violence.

“I have worked with victims whose stories illustrate the problems in this statutory loophole that this bill addresses,” she continued. “One, in particular, was especially powerful for me. This victim was assaulted by her abuser in a recurring pattern of violence, and we were called several times to literally rescue her from her abuser. This abuser had shot his previous girlfriend and left her to die in an alley in Minneapolis. He had entered a plea for 2nd-degree manslaughter and was subsequently convicted. Because 2nd-degree manslaughter was not included in the list of previous domestic violence–related offenses, we were unable to aggregate the cases against him and hold him truly accountable. The difference between a misdemeanor and a felony-level domestic charge affects detention time, bail, sentencing, pre-trial monitoring, and sentencing. The victim and her young children lived in a constant state of fear.”

The bill will be brought back to committee again, as Chair Moller intends to “refine the third-degree murder charge.”

Moller indicated there are two ways a person can commit 3rd-degree murder. One is “depraved mind” and the other is through selling drugs. She wants to bring forward an amendment to clarify that the 3rd degree murder law under this statute would be for “depraved mind.”

Modification of Homeless Youth Act

Rep. Heather Keeler

HF444, otherwise known as the Pathway Home Act, was introduced to the Children and Families Finance and Policy Committee with a modification by Rep. Heather Keeler (DFL–4A). She indicated that for two years the House had a Preventing Homelessness division and “extensively and emotionally we sat through a lot of conversations and listened to the communities come to us with solution-focused ideas. There are some of us who have broken glass ceilings to sit at this table. With that, I come with a really deep life experience of what homelessness looks like, what abuse looks like, what suicide attempts look like. I know not only what that looks like, but I know what it feels like.”

She indicated that not just one thing must be done to solve the problem of homelessness.

“We all believe and we all deeply understand that having a safe place to call home only excels us in so many other places in our life,” she continued. “We can look at the data and you can see that people who look like me tend to show up in negative spaces or have higher rates of whatever it is: health disparities, homelessness, abuse, neglect, attempt suicides, dropout in schools, the list goes on. I want us to enter into this space with an open heart and an open mind around a solution on how we protect our next generations moving forward.”

The first part of the bill is Shelter Capital, with at least 40 percent of the funds earmarked to Greater Minnesota. Another provision is for programming and staffing to partner with individual schools to learn skills they might need.

Other funding would be for transitional housing: “This is where we get people who maybe historically haven’t had opportunities to own homes, or they don’t have generations before them to teach them the path to that. This is an opportunity to help and guide people with supportive services for an amount of time, up to 36 months,” as an investment in helping them learn how to be homeowners with consistency in a space.

Keeler discussed the Youth Homeless Act. “It actually took the voices of the kids on the streets. [If] you want to know how to fix homelessness, ask the people who have experienced homelessness. This is investing into that program for community outreach.”

The Homeless Management Information System would help gather information about services to help “quickly move our population to [places] that actually have space. This system is designed to be more efficient and effective in how we’re supporting our communities, but also collecting the data so that collectively we know what we need to do to continue to move forward to prevent homelessness.”

Beth Holger, CEO of The Link, a nonprofit that does street outreach, emergency shelter, and housing for young people. “On any given night, we have 4,872 unaccompanied youth experiencing homelessness and only 312 emergency shelter beds,” she said. “We see youth that are sleeping in the entryway of doorways without shoes. We see youth that are trading sex for a couch to sleep on. We see youth that are sleeping in a car in a Walmart parking lot in Apple Valley. And we see youth living in encampments. We’re seeing increased levels of mental health crises, of domestic violence, and the impacts of gun violence.”

She shared the example of a woman, her baby, and her boyfriend. The boyfriend was “gunned down” in the parking lot outside of their apartment while coming home with his family. The landlord evicted them “because the other tenants in the building are now afraid,” and were homeless.

Holger also talked about a young gay person whose older brother outed him to their “extremely homophobic” mom. The mother began to beat the younger son, then drove down the sidewalk in her car chasing the other son. “These are very real things that are happening all the time.”

Rep. Kotyza-Witthuhn (DFL–49B) talked about her role as a former foster parent, knowing the difficulties older youth have in the foster care system. Of 130 children in the system today whose parental rights have already been terminated, 77 of them are 15 or older. “Those kids have a few years to find a permanent, loving family.”

Rep. Amanda Hemmingsen-Jaeger (DFL–47A) says Washington County, which is the fifth largest county in the state population-wise, has no county-run homeless shelters. There are two volunteer shelters, in Hugo and Oakdale, that can accommodate a total of ten families. Woodbury, in the area, is the eighth largest city in the state. “I found that there are about 358 students experiencing homelessness. This bill would have a significant impact in my county, in my district, with the emergency services grant to help with plans for establishing housing where we currently have none.”

Rep. Jessica Hanson (DFL–55A) added: “Everyday I see firsthand families and children who are facing dire situations, in addition to living in one of the poorest precincts in my community.”

Rep. Nathan Coulter (DFL–51B) said, “We well know the impact of seeing how counties and nonprofits have had to contract with hotels to address these issues.”

Rep. Brian Daniels (GOP–19A) said he likes the intent of the bill, as a second-generation foster care parent whose daughter also is a foster-care parent. He expressed a few concerns, about how quickly it takes money given to the Department of Human Services to be delivered quickly, and how that money will be funneled to Greater Minnesota. Daniels added, “I am not exactly sure how this kind of money is going to help people transition to homes but we’ll see how that plays out.”

Keeler concluded by saying an average night in the emergency room costs $1,462, and an average night of incarceration is $200. “I think if we just switch the investment and put it into this investment, and use the money in patterns and habits we know work, it’s better than continuing to let [people] fall through cracks.”

The bill unanimously was referred to the House Ways & Means.

Cirien Saadeh is Executive Director of The UpTake, a collaborative media partner of Minnesota Women’s Press