On LGBT issues, a less controversial legislative session is expected in 2008

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The usually divisive rhetoric over legislation involving equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Minnesotans will likely be subdued this year. Advocacy groups are presenting a modest agenda this legislative session, and a strong DFL majority in both the House and Senate makes the possibility of a constitutional amendment barring same-sex marriage and civil unions passing either chamber remote.

OutFront Minnesota, the state’s largest LGBT advocacy and public policy organization, says the group is looking to advance two specific initiatives.

The group is working on a bill to protect elderly couples from losing their home when one partner is on public assistance and needs nursing home care. The state can seize and sell the home to pay off medical assistance costs, leaving the other partner homeless. Because Minnesota does not allow for the government recognition of same-sex couples, nothing in the law prevents a person from losing his or her home when a partner on public assistance is placed in a nursing home.

“All elderly Minnesotans should be assured in the knowledge that their home belongs to them until they die,” said OutFront Minnesota Public Policy Director Monica Meyer. “Our home is an inherent part of our security and comfort. Surviving elderly domestic partners should not be forced into homelessness at times of such incredible loss.”

OutFront will also push a bill that passed both chambers last session: legislation to allow local governments to decide whether to provide domestic partner benefits to employees. “We are pursuing it again in 2008 as a fair and common-sense solution giving local governments autonomy over employee benefits,” said a press release from OutFront Minnesota. “We hope the governor will ultimately recognize the solid public policy rationale behind this legislation.” Gov. Pawlenty has threatened to veto the bill numerous times.

In addition, OutFront will support efforts to include age-appropriate, comprehensive sexual health education in schools.

Project 515, another advocacy group for LGBT Minnesotans, will not introduce legislation and has no agenda for the upcoming session, but the group will embark on a comprehensive educational campaign to “raise awareness of the scope and breadth of discrimination” against same-sex couples, said Maria Davis, a volunteer spokester for Project 515.

“On the legislative front, we will be maintaining a supportive role, working with OutFront on their initiatives,” said Davis. The project will seek to educate Minnesotans about the more than 515 inequalities that exist in Minnesota’s statutes regarding same-sex relationships.

“We encourage people to come to us with their stories of how these Minnesota statutes have affected them,” Davis said.

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