After years of trying to push a medical amnesty bill through the Legislature, the Minnesota Student Association is hoping the third time’s the charm.
The student organization is looking to expand protections from drug or underage alcohol consumption charges to include victims and reporters of sexual assault. Though the bill, introduced in the House on Tuesday, has not received a hearing in either chamber since its first session in 2018, MSA and legislators hope committee leadership will help move the bill forward this session.
“I think it’s really important that we protect the victims,” said public safety committee Vice Chair Rep. Heather Edelson, DFL-Edina, the bill’s chief author. “Sometimes penalties and punishment will stop people from reporting, and we would rather report and have accurate numbers and make sure that we’re catching bad actors.”
Current Minnesota statute enacted in 2013 provides immunity from prosecution for underage drinking and minor drug offenses to individuals who call 911 to report a medical emergency or safety concern. It was later expanded to include reporters of drug-related overdoses.
While the medical amnesty bill failed to receive a hearing the last two sessions, MSA Government and Legislative Affairs State Coordinator Sam Parmekar said having the vice chair of the committee author the bill and bipartisan support improves its chances. Committee vice chairs are able to set bill hearings.
Sen. Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, author of the Senate companion bill, said last year’s focus on the state budget caused the bill to take a back seat. But the prevalence of sexual assault and recent media coverage has helped propel the conversation about the bill, she said.
“Sometimes it takes a few years for people to really realize [that] we need to make changes and hearing stories from the people that it’s impacted helps,” Dziedzic said. “So hopefully we can do something this year.”
The University of Minnesota Police Department adopted medical amnesty in 2018. The City of Minneapolis followed suit in January 2019 after the Minnesota Attorney General’s office recommended law enforcement agencies statewide implement the policy.
Parmekar said while perpetrators of sexual assault often prey on intoxicated individuals on college campuses, the bill is an effort to extend protections to everyone across the state.
“I think fundamentally we all believe that we want to send a message to folks that it’s more important that we’re prosecuting a sexual assault than charging people with consumption,” Parmekar said. “We want to prioritize seeking justice for that assault.”
Despite widespread support, Edelson said some county attorneys have expressed the potential legislation may prevent their offices from prosecuting crimes the way they see fit.
“I think the misunderstanding about this legislation is [that] if you look at two issues, one where sexual violence occurred [and] one where they're maybe doing bad drugs,” Edelson said, “which one is more egregious and which one … is in the vested interest of public safety for the long term?”
The bill will need to receive a hearing in the House by the March 14 deadline before potentially being heard in the Senate public safety committee by April 3.