Matt Doll, Minnesota Environmental Partnership
Governor Tim Walz has called the Legislature to return this Monday for another summer special session, after the previous special session from June 12-19 failed to bear fruit on critical issues. The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted normal operations of the Legislature significantly, but strong bipartisan cooperation earlier this year has given way to gridlock over the past few months.
The needs of Minnesotans haven’t changed since business was last conducted at the Capitol. Criminal justice reform, a robust bonding bill, and the need to keep environmental programs and jobs afloat are all awaiting legislative solutions that fell through a few weeks ago.
Minnesotans deserve to feel safe in our neighborhoods, but aggressive, unchecked, militant policing has contributed to the inequitable dynamics that disproportionately harm people of color in our state. Many positive steps have been proposed in the Legislature toward reforming our justice system. The House of Representatives moved forward with a credible package of proposals to check police violence, but the Senate’s bills were not nearly as strong – and don’t support programs that would replace or supplement traditional policing models – and no agreement was reached. Making progress on these issues is a matter of justice, and of the state’s basic responsibility to protect residents’ lives.
The Legislature continues to negotiate a bonding bill, the outcome of which is critically important to Minnesota’s economy. Many of this year’s bonding proposals would be powerful boosts to safe and clean water, public transportation, and building a cleaner economy in Minnesota. But the longer that funding is delayed, the less likely it is that many of these projects will be completed this construction season, which means that many polluted waters will worsen as Minnesotans continue to struggle with unsafe water.
Lawmakers should also take up a bill to keep spending funds from the Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund, the lottery-funded resource that supports vital scientific studies and natural resources improvements in the state. If a bill isn’t passed, numerous jobs may be in jeopardy, as well as important research that should not be delayed at this time of drastic environmental change.
Will there be action?
While Governor Walz has called this special session, either house of the Legislature can adjourn it, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka has signaled that he will only support a short special session. Hopefully, this special session will bear more fruit than the previous one, but fissures on criminal justice reform and the state’s COVID-19 may continue to make consensus difficult.
This gridlock is an important reminder that state lawmakers are ultimately hired, in even-numbered years, by the people of Minnesota to responsibly govern. This year’s elections include the Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives, in addition to the national-level elections for Congress and the Presidency. The partisan primary, in which contested races for party support will be decided, will conclude voting a month from now, on August 11th. The general election is less than four months away, on November 3.
We strongly encourage all eligible Minnesotans (and our friends in other states) to exercise their right to vote in every election. With COVID-19 presenting a health hazard to in-person voting, we recommend voting by mail as the safest way to do so. Minnesota has a proud tradition as one of the highest-turnout states in the nation, and we won’t make progress on the environmental and equity issues that define our lives if we don’t continue to build on that tradition.