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It took almost four years, but law student Kristin Trapp, right, has finally succeeded in getting her gender-neutral constitutional amendment heard by lawmakers. Here Trapp testifies before the House Government Operations Committee on Feb. 25. The bill’s author, Rep. Kristin Bahner, DFL-Maple Grove, sits to her right. (Staff photo: Kevin Featherly)

Bar Buzz: Law student spurs gender-neutral amendment

It took almost four years, but law student Kristin Trapp finally has lawmakers paying attention to her gender-neutral constitutional amendment.

The bill she inspired, House File 2766, is one that Trapp first suggested in 2016 while working as legislative assistant to Sen. Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul. Pappas championed it at the time, but it never heard until Feb. 25, when the House Government Operations Committee took it up. It passed there unanimously.

“It’s a really cool moment,” Trapp said after the committee unanimously approved the measure and forwarded it over to House Rules.

“I thought of this bill three years ago and it didn’t gain a lot of traction,” she added. “So it just goes to show how the process takes a lot of time.”

The bill would ask voters if they want to scrub the roughly 70 outmoded references to “him,” “himself,” “he” and “his” that are scattered throughout the state constitution.

For instance, a legislator would no longer be commanded by Article IV, Section 8, “to discharge faithfully the duties of his office to the best of his judgment and ability.” The lawmaker would instead be ordered to do the best job executing the job of the office and to the best of the person’s abilities.

Trapp who studied at the London School of Economics’ Department of Gender Studies before returning to the United States in 2015 to work with Pappas, said she noticed the too-masculine verbiage while working with the senator.

“It kind of was jarring to me,” Trapp said. “I thought, ‘How is it that nobody’s bothered to change this?’ I find that kind of insulting.”

Pappas was all for it, but it took a couple of years before her bill gained traction at the Capitol. Last week, the House version got its first legislative vote of confidence.

Trapp, a University of Minnesota Law School juris doctorate candidate, points out that seven other states have already made similar changes. The Minnesota Constitution itself has been amended 120 times, she said. “It’s just a simple cleanup bill,” she said.

Minnesota statutes have already been cleansed of chauvinistic language and courts also avoid it.

Still, Trapp can’t help but muse how things might have played out if the Constitution were originally written favoring feminine pronouns rather than masculine one.

“Can you imagine, if the Constitution said women 69 times and men zero times, that it would’ve gone 160 years without changing?” Trapp said. “Like, do you really think so?”

HF 2766 was authored by Rep. Kristin Bahner, and has co-authors from both parties. The bill has not been scheduled for hearing in the Rules Committee yet. Pappas’ version, Senate File 522, is awaiting its first hearing in the Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee.

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About Kevin Featherly

Kevin Featherly, who joined BridgeTower Media in mid-2016, is a journalist and former freelance writer who has covered politics, law, business, technology and popular culture for publications and websites in the Twin Cities and nationally since the mid-1990s.

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