The Minnesota State Legislature convened on Tuesday, March 8, 2016. Two days later, Voices for Racial Justice held a rally across the street from the State Capitol to celebrate the release of the 2016 Racial Equity Agenda, a 16 page policy blueprint for a more equitable Minnesota. More than 60 supporting organizations shared in the creation of the Agenda, which contains 33 policy proposals that cover nearly every area of the state with implications for rural and urban Minnesota. For a complete look at the Agenda, visit http://voicesforracialjustice.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Agenda-2016_FINAL_web2..pdf
Immediately following the rally, every state legislator received a hand delivered copy of the Agenda. The hope was that they would use the Agenda to inform their policy proposals and objectives at the start of the legislative session, create policies that advance racial equity, and that they would use the session to legislate against structural racism in Minnesota. Yet with only a few weeks left to go in this year’s session, our hopes to advance racial equity seem fleeting.
A little over a week ago, Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, wrote a letter to House Speaker, Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, urging Republicans to do more to address Minnesota’s racial and economic disparities. Thirty of her DFL colleagues, including Minority Leader, Paul Thissen, co-signed the letter, which urged Speaker, Daudt, to take action this session. “It is time we come together,” wrote Moran, “to acknowledge that racial economic disparities in our state is an emergency.” It was this same sense of urgency that motivated community organizations and members from different racial and ethnic backgrounds to come together around the theme We the People in the 2016 Racial Equity Agenda.
This theme was a deliberate choice. The community organizations that helped create the Racial Equity Agenda want legislators to know that ending racial and economic disparities in Minnesota will take a collaborative effort. They want legislators to know that they do not have to act alone, but that solutions can come from local communities. Most important, they want legislators to seek guidance and to follow the visions for a more equitable Minnesota that come from the communities that are most negatively affected by racial and economic disparities: American Indian communities and communities of color across the state. A better future is possible – for all Minnesotans – if legislators would hear the voices of our communities.
It is not too late. As a complement to the 2016 Racial Equity Agenda, Voices for Racial Justice just released its 2016 Racial Equity Bill watch. The Racial Equity Bill Watch includes bills introduced in the Minnesota Legislature that address racial and economic disparities. This is a working list that will be updated and changed continually until the end of the session. Although some of the bills on this list may not progress further, it is important to recognize the racial equity impact they could have if adopted. The Racial Equity Bill Watch serves as a precursor to the 2015-2016 Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity – an accountability tool which grades legislators on their efforts to advance racial equity. The Report Card will be released following the end of the current legislative session.
Like the Racial Equity Agenda, the Racial Equity Bill Watch is a collaborative effort of numerous community partners. Whereas the Agenda contains general policy suggestions for a more equitable Minnesota, the Bill Watch contains specific bills to advance racial equity currently under consideration in the Senate and the House. Among these solutions are the following:
- Strengthen the Working Family Credit so that working people can better make ends meet, and so that children can get off to a stronger start in life. While people of color make up about 18 percent of the state population, about 30 percent of Minnesota households that qualify for the Working Family Credit are people of color. Expanding the Working Family Credit can play a role in narrowing Minnesota’s racial and economic disparities (HF 3589/SF 2586 and HF 3163/SF 3039);
- Support the startup and expansion of small businesses owned by women of color (HF 3099/SF 2931);
- Provide access to public health insurance to individuals regardless of immigration status, many of whom currently lack an affordable source of health care despite making vital contributions to our economy (HF 3780/ SF 2422);
- Restore the right to vote to formerly incarcerated individuals. Minnesota should pass legislation to allow people to vote who have served their time and are living in their community (HF 342/SF 355).
These are just a few of the bills contained within the 2016 Racial Equity Bill Watch, which can be found at http://voicesforracialjustice.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/2016RacialEquityBillWatch-050316.pdf.
In total, the bill watch contains 16 pages of bills that advance racial equity in Minnesota. Yes, it is a short session, an election year, and a bonding year; but that is no excuse for inaction. There is still time in this legislative session to advance racial equity in Minnesota.
Brett Grant is Director of Research and Policy and David Gilbert-Pederson is Legislative Researcher at Voices for Racial Justice.