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

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Legislative update

Friday, April 12, 2024

Dear Neighbor

House Democrats approved an omnibus elections bill this week which is perversely anti-democratic.

Notable changes include allowing a mere description of residence when an address is not available, and the establishment of additional polling places on postsecondary institution campuses upon request. The bill also infringes on local governments with additional unfunded mandates on local elections.

Elections policy has a longstanding tradition of being bipartisan so that neither side can claim an unfair advantage over the other – and, because it’s the right thing to do. In fact, governors in the past have demanded that elections bills be bipartisan. This one is the opposite. Democrats failed to conduct a single committee hearing for a Republican elections bill this session.

The majority also voted down an amendment I offered to strike language related to the the so-called Minnesota Voting Rights Act from the bill. The MVRA, a major component of the bill, is not ready for prime time and goes too far. The language provides a broad pathway for lawsuits against cities and counties. This bill should stand on its own merits on the House floor instead of being stuffed into an omnibus package but, instead, the standalone language is still sitting in the committee process. My main concern centers on how this could take elections policy decisions out of the democratic process and place them in the hands of our courts.

We, as elected legislators, decide policy in an elections bill, but instead have policies decided for us via sue-and-settle litigation either in front of a Democrat-appointed judge or through a settlement. This bill is a way for Democrats to have policy they desire crafted outside of the democratic process, continuing their trend of legislating through the courts. It's a bad idea.

Instead of taking a more balanced and reasonable approach, the majority ignored the minority’s good ideas and loaded up this bill with partisan elections policy, a patently undemocratic and irresponsible approach to legislating.

In other news:

Ban on book bans

As much as the governor and Democrats in the Legislature like to pretend they are all about the First Amendment, they have done quite the opposite by stifling First Amendment freedoms. A partial list includes:

  • Attempting to weaponize human rights act to override faith teachings of churches & other faith communities
  • Launching a surveillance database to track speech you don’t like
  • Trying to ban political speech by corporations but not unions or nonprofits (currently enjoined in federal court)
  • Discriminating against faith-based colleges in PSEO program (currently enjoined in federal court).

And this list is just the things I’ve been fighting the last year and a half as a member of the House of Representatives. I didn’t even include things like the governor shutting down churches during COVID while he allowed more favored businesses (like liquor stores) to stay open.

All the while, the governor and fellow Democrats keep talking about fake “book bans” to distract from their horrific anti-First Amendment record. A bill is making its way through the House which establishes a “library bill of rights” which school libraries must adopt and obey to receive state aid. It also includes a prohibition on “banning books.”

This bill is purely a political diversion rather than a serious policy proposal. Democrats want to talk about “book banning” because they don't want to talk about the tens of thousands of kids unable to read these books. They don't want to talk about their failed education agenda, where less than half of Minnesota students can read at grade level.

Instead of addressing the fact we are failing our children in the classroom, House Democrats are steering the conversation to book bans. They are telling parents to sit down and be quiet because they don’t care what you want your kids to be exposed to at school.

Religious freedom

Speaking of First Amendment rights, an omnibus judicial package was scheduled to be discussed by the full House and put up to a vote on Wednesday. I planned to offer an amendment to restore religious freedom in the Minnesota Human Rights Act, protecting religious organizations and faith-based schools against claims of gender identity discrimination after Democrats in St. Paul erased this long-held Minnesota belief.

But, before a crucial public discussion and vote on this subject took place on the House floor, the majority tabled the overriding omnibus bill – essentially sparing themselves by pushing off this discussion for another day. What’s weird is House Democrats have only tabled two floor bills all session. The first time was when I tried to bring up my religious freedom measure as a stand-alone bill. Now, it happened again when I was planning to add my religious freedom measure as an amendment to the judiciary package.