New laws for lasers, teeth, Indians and Iran start Aug. 1by Curtis Gilbert, Minnesota Public Radio
More than 50 new Minnesota state laws take effect Aug. 1. They involve policy changes in areas ranging from crime to public health.
Plus, the state will have to begin divesting from certain companies, and Minnesota will ask Congress to repeal a federal law passed in 1863.
Which companies will Minnesota have to purge from its investment portfolio?
Ones that do business with Iran's energy sector. Federal law already restricts U.S. companies from doing business with Iran. So this only involves foreign companies.
Minnesota joins 14 other states and the federal government in adopting this policy.
Its aim is to slow down Iran's nuclear energy program. The law's sponsors believe Iran's pursuit of nuclear power is really a front for pursing nuclear weapons.
The State Board of Investment says the divestment affects only a dozen companies or so that make up less than 1 percent of the state's overall assets. The board handles all the state's investments, more than $43 billion at last report. The vast majority of that is retirement plans for public employees.
The divesture will not happen immediately. The law sets up a process that will take 15 months to complete.
Why is Minnesota asking Congress to repeal a law that's been on the books since 1863?
Because it's a law that ordered the Dakota Indians to be removed from Minnesota. It was passed following the Dakota Conflict of 1862. Hundreds of people died that year in a six-week war between Dakota Indians and white settlers in Minnesota.
After the war, President Lincoln signed a law expelling the Dakota from Minnesota. That law is obviously no longer enforced, but it has never been repealed.
State Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City, sponsored a non-binding resolution asking Congress to officially repeal the 1863 law.
Urdahl, who wrote a historical novel about the conflict, hopes the resolution will help heal some of the psychological wounds of the Dakota conflict, even if the federal law stay on the books.
Which health-related laws have changed?
The largest change comes in the area of dental care. Minnesota will become the first state to license what it's calling "dental therapists."
These health care providers will require significantly less training than dentists, but more than dental hygienists. They could fill cavities and pull teeth.
Lawmakers worry Minnesota is not training enough dentists to replace those expected to retire. They hope the dental therapists will fill that gap.
The goal is to better serve poor and rural populations that have inadequate access to dental care.
The U of M and MnSCU will start training dental therapists in the fall, and the first dozen or so should begin practicing in 2011.
Why is there a new law making it a crime to shine lasers at planes and helicopters? Was that legal before?
It was illegal under federal law, but officials found it difficult to prosecute people under that law for a variety of reasons. So they decided to make it a crime under state law, too.
Jim Englin, a helicopter pilot for the state Highway Patrol, is responsible for this change. Last year, Englin was flying a routine nighttime patrol over northeast Minneapolis when suddenly, his entire windshield went green.
It became completely opaque, which is what happens when a laser hits a windshield, according to Englin. The laser also struck him in the eye.
Englin and his co-pilot managed to land the helicopter in a parking lot, and the Minneapolis police helped them catch the man who shined the laser at them.
Because the federal law was geared toward prosecuting terrorists who aim lasers at commercial planes, however, they weren't able to convict the perpetrator.
If this new state law had been in place, the man would have faced a gross misdemeanor charge, with up to a year in jail and a $3,000 fine.
The Legislature adjourned in May, why are these laws just taking effect now?
Budget bills normally take effect July 1, the start of the state's fiscal year.
Aug. 1 is the default start date, set out in law, for policy legislation. Unless a non-budget law specifies a different start date, that's when it goes into effect. It has been that way in Minnesota since 1971.
To read about other new laws taking effect Aug. 1, visit the Minnesota House of Representatives official Web site.
- Morning Edition, 07/31/2009, 7:25 a.m.