Skip to main content Skip to office menu Skip to footer
Capital IconMinnesota Legislature

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

Back to profile

Legislative update

Friday, May 10, 2024
Mothers Day

Dear Neighbor,

Before we get to this week’s big news, I want to wish you and your family a happy Mother’s Day this Sunday. Also, good luck to anyone planning to head out on the water for the fishing opener.

As for legislative news:

Big win for religious freedom

religious liberty

House Republicans this week cleared a major hurdle toward restoring religious freedom which Minnesota Democrats stripped from faith-based organizations last year.

The House on Tuesday approved a variation of legislation I authored, amending the Minnesota Human Rights Act to re-establish protections for religious entities against discrimination claims. The bill unanimously passed the Senate earlier in the day and, with the House also providing overwhelming approval, it now is on Gov. Tim Walz’s desk for enactment and I encourage him to sign this into law as soon as possible.

To be sure, this is not the language that I originally proposed, but it achieves the goal in my original bill of retaining for religious organizations a broad statutory exemption for both sexual orientation and gender. This is a great day for religious freedom in Minnesota, even if our enthusiasm is a bit tempered due to other legislation on the horizon. (More on that in a bit.)

This move was necessary due to HRA legislation Democrats enacted in 2023, striking religious protections that had been in place since 1993. 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.

Both sides had to be flexible in working to resolve this issue and I think the finished respects all Minnesotans. It protects institutional autonomy and the rights of association for people of faith. This is a win for our state, and I thank members of the faith community and my colleagues across the aisle for working together on a solution.

I am confident the courts ultimately would have ruled the change Democrats made last year unconstitutional. It’s also good it didn’t get that far.

We’re seeing a lot of reckless laws Democrats passed last year ending up in court and that’s likely where this issue was headed. I have strongly urged Democrats to acknowledge some of their new laws did not hold muster and were destined to be overturned by the courts, all the while costing Minnesota taxpayers more in needless legal fees. The Democrats did not heed good-faith warnings and here we are. It’s just good to see we’re now poised to clean up the mess they made on religious freedom.

ERA bill on horizon

House Democrats soon may bring to the floor a controversial bill which greatly expands the Equal Rights Amendment, enshrining protections for everything from race, sex and gender identity to abortion and infertility treatments in state law.

In other words, Democrats soon could undo all the bipartisan good that was accomplished on religious freedom by ramming more extreme measures through the House – sending them to the Senate, where a member charged with felony burglary could cast the deciding vote. Here is a link to more on this issue.

Watch for more on this issue and others as we make our way through the final week of the session and toward our May 20 deadline to adjourn. Until next time, please stay in touch.