Racial justice, bonding on the table in special session

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Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership

The Minnesota Legislature is almost certain to reconvene for a special session starting by this Friday, June 12. 

Several major items of concern are likely to be considered that are of great importance to Minnesota’s environmental community. The Legislature’s People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) Caucus has put forward a series of proposals in response to the murder of George Floyd. The 2020 bonding bill is a top priority in both the House and the Senate, though the two parties are not unified on how large it should be or which projects it should fund. The Legislature may also continue negotiating its environmental omnibus bill and legislation to fund programs from the Environment & Natural Resources Trust Fund.

What the POCI caucus wants to accomplish

The POCI caucus released its broad 2020 legislative priorities in February; these included policies on education, health and human services, criminal justice, housing, economic development, elections, and environmental justice. 

The newly released proposals focus specifically on police accountability and criminal justice reform. They would modify laws and procedures governing the investigation and prosecution of officer-involved deaths and wrongful actions, including automatically making the Attorney General primarily responsible for these prosecutions. They would make reforms to make policing data more transparent and police officers more accountable to the communities they serve. They would raise standards of conduct and training, and lift the state ban on local-residence requirements for officers. And it would invest in programs that support mental health and trauma relief.

These policies have broad support from House leadership, but their path in the Senate is uncertain at this time.

Why it’s so important for environmentalists

MEP’s vision pledges to “put people and planet first,” and that includes ending systemic violence against Minnesotans of color. We recognize that there can be no environmental justice as long as we continue to tolerate a justice system that is fundamentally unjust and devalues black lives through police brutality, segregation, and pollution. As of this moment, MEP’s member representatives have not formally voted to approve these policies, but many members have pledged to support them. We will be paying close attention to this legislation and considering how best to use our resources in support of racial justice.

How the bonding bill will look

Governor Walz and Minnesota’s legislative leaders largely agree that passing a bonding bill is a top priority, as it will help to rejuvenate our COVID-ravaged economy and fix aging infrastructure. There is disagreement on the scope of the bill, and what projects it will fund, however. It is likely that legislators will attempt to address rebuilding in Minneapolis and St. Paul in the wake of the fires that destroyed businesses in the last two weeks.

Why it’s so important for environmentalists

MEP and a number of our allies are members of the Fix the Pipes alliance, and we are asking the Legislature to pass a large bonding bill and dedicate at least $300 million in funds to fixing water infrastructure around Minnesota, benefiting human health and creating jobs. In addition, we hope to see projects that reduce our carbon footprint, lay the groundwork for cleaner transportation, and promote environmental justice in our communities. This is exactly the right time for bold investments in Minnesota’s future.

What you can do

Contact your lawmakers to ask them to prioritize racial justice, environmental improvements, and economic revitalization when they return for the special session. Let them know that this is no time for small ideas or delaying progress.

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