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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Harry Niska (R)

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Legislative update

Friday, March 1, 2024

Dear Neighbor,

This week’s headlines from the House include news about how Democrats turned a historic state surplus into a projected shortfall and continued eroding our Second Amendment. Those may pale in comparison to another thing Democrats did this week by striking a serious blow to our religious freedom.

Here we go:

Democrats strike against religious freedom

House Democrats made it crystal clear this week that our state’s views trump your religious beliefs. They did so in their words and actions Thursday while voting down an amendment I offered in a committee hearing to fix a problem Democrats caused in the Minnesota Human Rights Act they enacted last year.

Before last year, when gender identity was included (or subsumed) within the MHRA definition of sexual orientation, the still-existing religious exemption for sexual orientation covered gender identity claims as well. When a new, separate definition of gender identity was created last year, there was no corresponding religious exemption added. 

When I first heard about this from the faith groups, I assumed this was an oversight, and the department and majority would support a fix to restore the status quo as it existed from 1993-2023. But that fix is missing from the department’s bill presented this year, which is why, at the request of Minnesota’s faith community, I crafted an amendment to rectify this situation.

My amendment language simply restores the religious exemption in the MHRA protecting religious organizations and faith-based schools against claims of gender identity discrimination. The exemption ensures that religious organizations and faith-based schools can, among other things, hire teachers and ministers consistent with their mission and values. Already, at least one faith-based school is facing an employment complaint at the department of human rights because of the removal of the exemption.

Unfortunately, the Democrat majority refused to fix the problem it created and voted down my amendment. Not only that, but the cynical insults Democrat House members directed at members of our religious community who testified on behalf of my amendment were unbecoming.

This is fundamentally a red alert regarding the direction our state is heading under full control of Democrats. They have declared open season on our religious faith while projecting totalitarianism on us all, as if the American Revolution never happened. They have erased the separation of church and state after assuring us for years their anti-discrimination push would spare religious entities.

It’s bad enough that Democrats keep coming for our tax dollars and our guns but we expect that from them. Now, the mask is really off on their compelled religion agenda and Democrats are coming for those foundational, quintessential American rights as well.

Click here for the full video of committee discussion and action on my amendment. The relevant part starts around 13:00.

State economic forecast

State officials issued a new economic forecast Thursday, with a looming $1.5 billion shortfall through 2027 overshadowing a $3.715 billion surplus for the current biennium.

One-party Democrat control in St. Paul is having damaging consequences for Minnesota taxpayers and we need a more balanced approach. In less than a year, they turned a $17.5 billion surplus into a projected shortfall for the next biennium. Even their $10 billion in tax increases could not cover their radical spending spree that ballooned our state budget by 40 percent. The Democrats didn’t give back the surplus, raised taxes, increased spending to unaffordable levels and have blown a hole in the state’s budget. They need to start honoring their promises to Minnesotans.

Again, we need more balance at the Capitol.

Gun-control bills

The House committee on public safety on Thursday conducted hearings for a pair of anti-Second Amendment bills authored by Democrats.

The bills are H.F. 601 – Her, arbitrary deadline for reporting for lost and stolen firearms; and H.F. 4300 – Becker-Finn, regarding firearm storage. Both proposals seem to do more to criminalize good-faith, law-abiding gun owners than to crack down on the repeat criminals and other true bad actors our courts continue putting back on the street.

I do not support these bills and will continue working on other proposals that center on the bad actors themselves. In fact, I am co-authoring legislation to increase penalties for so-called “straw purchases” where someone who is eligible to purchase a firearm purchases one for someone whose criminal status prohibits them from doing so. This is the type of circumvention that appears to have played a role in the recent killing of two police officers and a firefighter medic in Burnsville.

Memorial for Burnsville heroes

Burnsville officers

I attended the memorial for those three heroes who were killed in the line of duty. Officer Matthew Ruge, Officer Paul Elmstrand, and Firefighter/Paramedic Adam Finseth gave their lives to save others, and we will be forever grateful. I’m profoundly saddened by their loss, but so inspired by their example. “Greater love has no one than this, that he lays down his life for his friends.”

Bill to unwind the Met Council

The Met Council has grown into an unwieldy entity with no accountability to voters and the authority to tax citizens. I have authored a bill to fix this problem. Look for more on that in an upcoming newsletter.

Until next time, have a good weekend.