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Controversial court ruling sparks urgency in Minnesota Legislature to review sexual assault law

A comprehensive bill to strengthen Minnesota's sexual assault laws has gained new momentum after a controversial state Supreme Court ruling sparked national outrage.

Minnesota State Capitol file photo
Minnesota State Capitol
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ST. PAUL — After a high-profile state Supreme Court ruling sparked outrage, Minnesota lawmakers are looking to clean up the state’s longstanding sexual assault statutes that advocates and legislators say don’t go far enough to protect survivors.

A bipartisan group of lawmakers at a Wednesday, April 7, news conference called for urgency in passing criminal sexual assault law changes in order to “address contradictions, loopholes, and other shortcomings which create barriers for survivors to receive justice,” per a Wednesday news release.

Lawmakers have discussed making changes to Minnesota’s sexual assault statutes for years. The latest push comes after the Minnesota Supreme Court in March overturned a previous rape conviction, ruling that the survivor was not “mentally incapacitated” and unable to give consent under the state’s legal definition because she chose to consume alcohol herself earlier in the night.

The decision sparked outrage in Minnesota and beyond, resulting in protests and calls to clean up the state’s criminal statute . State Rep. Kelly Moller, D-Shoreview, who has been working on sexual assault statute reforms long before last month, said the public outcry against the court’s decision has been “overwhelming” and could push the Legislature to finally rewrite the law.

Moller said last month’s decision “highlights the flaw in our current law that fails to provide protection to victim survivors who are voluntarily intoxicated and sexually assaulted.” But House File 707 and its Senate companion bill — both of which have bipartisan support — go further to modify age requirements for statutory rape and establish a new crime of so-called sexual extortion.

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“While we are thankful for the attention the Supreme Court decision has drawn to our bill to fix the intoxication loophole, we shouldn't’ wait for other bad case law in order to make other important changes in the bill,” Moller said Wednesday. “There should be no hesitancy to quickly pass the entire bill this session.”

Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake, who has also worked extensively on sexual assault statute reform, said in a Wednesday news release that, “For victim survivors ... this change cannot happen soon enough.”

But, she added, “I also know that we also must get the language right as was highlighted by the recent Minnesota Supreme Court decision.”

Mearhoff is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. You can reach her at smearhoff@forumcomm.com or 651-290-0707.
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