By Don Davis
A late central Minnesota woman’s wish for safer homes comes true when 2014 begins.
Once Janet Thompson learned she had terminal lung cancer, her health battle joined with a fight to make sure Minnesotans knew about the danger of radon. Thompson, who lived in Glenwood, south of Alexandria, tried to talk people into checking their homes for radon, a colorless, odorless gas that can cause cancer.
Her sister, Lori Thompson-Garry of Eagan, took up the cause and told legislators early in 2013 about the dangers of radon. They passed a law, signed by Gov. Mark Dayton, to require Minnesota homebuyers to receive information about radon dangers.
Other laws also begin Jan. 1, including one that forbids asking many job applicants if they have a criminal history and a provision adding 40,000 people to the state’s Medical Assistance rolls.
The radon discussion began as a measure by Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, to require radon tests. It eventually was watered down to require that new homeowners receive information. The new law also requires a homeowner to reveal if he knows radon is present in a home he is selling.
Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, opposed the measure, saying that he feared that government would make more home-selling requirements. He worried that lawmakers next might require warnings about bats because they may carry rabies.
Anderson was not surprised that the testing requirement was dropped, but said that issue may return to the Capitol.
At least a third of Minnesota homes have radon levels that put residents at risk, said Rep. Carolyn Laine, D-Columbia Heights.
Thompson-Garry said it is important for people to learn about radon.
“Lung cancer is very silent,” Thompson-Garry said during a March legislative hearing. “She had no symptoms.”
Homes in southern and western Minnesota appear to have the greatest chance of having radon, the state Health Department reported.
Homeowners may buy radon test kits for less than $20, while a certified tester can be hired for $150, Anderson said.
Other new laws include:
— Private employers may not include a check box on job applications asking if applicants have criminal records.
— About 40,000 more Minnesotans will receive government-funded health care under the Medical Assistance program. The bill pushed by Rep. Tom Huntley, D-Duluth, means that some people now on the state-subsidized MinnesotaCare will be able to get free coverage.
— Scrap yards must install video surveillance equipment, and digital still cameras must photograph the face of each seller of a scrap vehicle. Scrap dealers also must photograph a seller’s vehicle, including the license plate.
— A bill by Rep. Dan Schoen, D-St. Paul Park, and Sen. Katie Sieben, D-Cottage Grove, requires state officials to notify the local 911 center when a hazardous substance is spilled. Legislative testimony indicated there have been cases when state officials knew about a spill, but local authorities were not notified.
— Some electronic court files of juveniles charged with felonies will be closed to the public. Paper records will remain available.