Emotional Press Conference With House Legislators About Public Safety

Rep. Athena Hollins takes questions about HF16, a bill that would prohibit conversion therapy with children or vulnerable adults, ahead of the Feb. 20 House Floor session. Photo by Andrew VonBank; Copyright Minnesota House of Representatives

Just before a House Floor Session was set to begin on Feb. 20, a press conference was held to discuss three of five votes to be taken during the Floor Session, which would focus largely on public safety issues. The press conference was sometimes very emotional as legislators and community members shared their own stories related to the legislation at hand.

The three bills discussed were:

  • House File 16 banning conversion therapy from Rep. Athena Hollins (DFL–District 66B);
  • House File 55, which would create the first-ever-in-the-nation Office of Missing and Murdered Black Women and Girls, authored by Rep. Ruth Richardson (DFL–District 52B);
  • House File 30 addressing catalytic converter thefts, also authored by Rep. Richardson.
  • Rep. Richardson opened the press conference by discussing the Office of Missing and Murdered Black Women and Girls.

Protecting Black Women and Girls in Minnesota

Rep. Ruth Richardson

“When we started this conversation at the legislature back in 2019, there were an estimated 64,000 to 75,000 Black women and girls missing in the United States, making it clear that we didn’t even know the full scope of this crisis,” said Rep. Richardson. “In 2020, more than 100,000 Black women and girls were reported missing.”

Rep. Richardson thanked the families of missing and murdered Black women and girls who have had to relive their trauma testifying at the various committee meetings.

Dr. Peter Hayden (father of former Minnesota State Senator Jeff Hayden) shared a story of the murder of his daughter, Taylor Hayden, seven years ago.

Dr. Verna Cornelia Price, founder of Girls Taking Action, added: “I cannot tell you how many times I have had girls say to me I don’t feel safe.”

Lakeisha Lee, who also testified at many committee meetings, spoke about her sister’s murder ten years ago. She said it took ten days after the family reported her missing before her body was found.

“When we reached out to our local officers they said, ‘girls do this all the time, she probably just ran away with her boyfriend.’ But we knew different. We knew something was wrong,” said Lee. “I dedicate my time to solving this, to make sure Black girls and women know you’re valuable, you’re loved, and you can feel safe. In Minnesota, we’re creating a blueprint to do this work.”

Catalytic Converters

In regards to House File 30, Rep. Richardson noted that Minnesota is fifth in the nation for catalytic converter thefts. House File 30 provides additional resources to law enforcement in Minnesota as they investigate and attempt to stop catalytic converter thefts in the state, with a focus on large-scale criminal enterprises.

“Minnesota was among nine states in a recent takedown of one of these large theft rings where an estimated $38 million of converters and the extracted precious metals were sold for more than $545 million,” said Rep. Richardson.

Rep. Richardson was joined by Brian Sturgeon, Chief of Police for West Saint Paul, who said, “Three or four years ago, catalytic converters [thefts] were very infrequent,” said Sturgeon. “In 2019, we had zero catalytic converter thefts. In 2020, we had 25. In 2021, we had 177, and in 2022 those numbers remained steady.”

Sturgeon noted that the cost and time needed to replace a catalytic converter is a financial challenge, particularly for those living paycheck-to-paycheck.

Conversion Therapy Ban

Rep. Athena Hollins presented House File 16, which would ban conversion therapy in Minnesota. “Conversion therapy is a misnomer, it is not therapy,” said Rep. Hollins. “Conversion ‘therapy’ includes a range of dangerous and discredited practices that try to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity.”

Rep. Hollins shared that approximately 7 percent of LGTBQ+ people in the United States have received conversion therapy. She said it is banned in 20 states, Washington D.C., Puerto Rico, and 75 individual cities.

Rep. Hollins was joined by Senator Scott Dibble (DFL–District 61), the chief author of the Senate companion bill banning conversion therapy (SF23).

“The time is long past when we should be affirming to all people and affirm that they are perfect as they are,” said Sen. Dibble. “This practice [of conversion therapy] needs to be banned. It is heinous. It is abhorrent. It does active harm to people and their lives. Minnesota is better than this.”

OutFront MN executive director Kat Rohn spoke in support of HF 16, as well as HF55. “I’m reminded every summer, as we see images of Marsha P. Johnson, that we still have many members of our own community whose murders and disappearances remain unsolved to this day.”

Rohn expressed gratitude to the authors of the House and Senate legislation banning conversion therapy and shared that the bill will help ensure that LGBTQ+ Minnesotans feel safe in Minnesota.

Majority Leader Jamie Long (DFL–District 61B) spoke. “We have some of the most community-driven bills up on the Floor today of any that we’re going to be taking up this session. These bills are about making sure that our community members are safe,” he said, adding that all three public safety bills address equity issues across the state.

All three measures passed the House vote. Floor debate of each of these bills will be part of future stories at womenspress.com