Several people shared their stories of being survivors of sexual exploitation when Rep. Heather Keeler’s (DFL– District 4A, Moorhead) HF1858 Safe Harbor shelter and housing grant program was discussed in March.
“One of the things in Minnesota that we want to have honest conversations about is the fact that we have youth in this state who are being sold in exchange for sex,” Keeler said in introducing the bill. She said that a high percentage of youths in her Northwest Minnesota region indicated — in a statewide survey that polled 9th and 11th graders — that they had been trafficked.
People impacted by nonprofit organization The Link testified, including CEO Beth Holger. The Link offers services and housing for youths and young families experiencing homelessness; people who have been victims of sex trafficking; and youths involved in the juvenile justice or child welfare systems. The organization is based in Minneapolis, Holger said, but serves victims of sex trafficking all over the state
Holger added, “It goes without saying that Minnesota’s children should not be bought and sold for sex, for some predators to profit, but that’s what’s happening.”
The bill would provide funding in 2024–2025 for the Minnesota departments of human services and health to provide more funds to serve sexually exploited youth and youth at risk of homelessness, as well as to expand funding for the safe harbor regional navigator system.
Holger says referrals to The Link come from street outreach; regional navigator crisis lines; a Youth Services Network app; and concerned friends, siblings, child protection agents, social workers, law enforcement, federal agents, and even libraries and schools.
One survivor testified that she was exploited starting at the age of 15: “The Link housed me for nine months, where I had warm cooked meals, I had a safe bed, I had a warm shower. With the resources of The Link, I have been able to better myself and to further my education.”
A survivor of rape indicated she was molested by her sister and brother for more than eight years. “I would take my anger out on other people,” she said. “[The Link] helped me better myself mentally and also helped me mature.”
Rep. Jess Hanson (DFL–District 55A, Burnsville) said to the people who testified, “As a fellow survivor, I am really proud of you.”
Rep. Ben Davis (GOP–District 6A, Grand Rapids) said, “This is very real slavery going on in our state. I really hope that one day we won’t have to spend money on this because we solved the problem, but today is not that day.”
After the discussion ended, Keeler sat with testifiers at her desk. “Visually, this is what courage looks like. Please use this as an example of what happens when we see the pain in our communities and we support them — they show up in really powerful ways.”
The bill was referred without opposition to the Health Finance and Policy committee for additional discussion as it made its way through the process to a House floor vote.
The federal government established the Indian Child Welfare Act in 1978 to help end the practice begun in the 1800s of separating Native American children from their families. The U.S. Supreme Court will potentially overturn this law via Brackeen v. Haaland.
Minnesota will codify language into state law as a proactive step designed to place Native American children who are in the foster care system into Native American homes. The Minnesota Indian Family Preservation Act was passed by the House 128-0 and by the Senate 66-1. Sen. Steve Drazkowski,
R–District 20, Mazeppa, voted no; a few others abstained. It was scheduled to be signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz.
The legislation affirms the state’s policy on tribal-state relations, including the recognition of tribes as sovereign nations with the inherent authority to determine their own jurisdiction for Indian child custody or child placement proceedings.
Walz signed legislation into law in March that enables undocumented immigrants to get driver’s licenses. Former governor Tim Pawlenty had executed an order in 2003 that required proof of U.S. residency in order to get a driver’s license, and advocates have been trying to reverse that decision for nearly two decades.
At the time this magazine went to press:
HF5 passed the Senate 38-26. The bill, authored by Sen. Heather Gustafson (DFL–District 36, Vadnais Heights), would provide free breakfast and lunch for students. According to a national NBC News report, Drazkowski said he opposed the bill because it was “pure socialism,” and was about “the government dictating to kids what they’re going to eat and how much they’re going to eat.” He indicated any additional funding should go to improve education. It was signed into law by Gov. Tim Walz in March.
Drazkowski also said that he has never met anyone in the state who is hungry. The Star Tribune reported that food shelves Minnesota received a record 5.5 million visits in 2022.