News

Legislative update: Republicans dismantle protections

The Minnesota State Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on May 19. But the lawmakers may go into overtime – a special session – if the Republican-led House and Democrat-led Senate do not reach agreement on how to eliminate the $4.2 billion budget deficit. The Minnesota State Legislature is scheduled to adjourn on May 19. But the lawmakers may go into overtime – a special session – if the Republican-led House and Democrat-led Senate do not reach agreement on how to eliminate the $4.2 billion budget deficit.

The state Constitution requires the state to adopt a balance budget for each biennium. The Senate and House of Representatives are approximately $1 billion apart in their proposals.

Democrats say the Legislature has to be willing to consider increasing taxes to balance the budget. Otherwise, if state supported services are withdrawn, severe hardship will befall people who already are at great risk.

Republicans, however, promised their voters they would not raise taxes, and expand tax cuts, a strategy of reducing government service, size and cost. Charities and churches should pick up programs previously supported by tax dollars they say.

Both Republicans and Democrats insist they are trying to maintain "core services" for Minnesota in their budget proposals. "However", argues the Rev. Randolph Staten, co-chair African American Leadership Summit/Black Church Coalition, "what’s defined as core services for some, may not be the same for another group of people".

Rep. Keith Ellison outlined some of the critical legislative and policy issues affecting the Black community:

Conceal & Carry

This law goes into effect at the end of May. Under this law, you will be able to carry a concealed weapon. As long as you are not mentally infirm or do not have a felony, you can get a gun and the sheriff shall issue a permit. However, if an establishment has a visible sign saying "No Guns Allowed" then one will not be allowed to enter the establishment with a gun.

"If everyone’s packing, then there may be more than one or two dead people," said Ellison. "They’re talking about 90,000 more new guns."

Law enforcement groups and most suburban communities did not support this legislation. "This was an issue in which rural Minnesota is imposing its will against the rest of us," said Ellison.

People played on the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in pushing forth this legislation, Ellison said. "When you drive up the level of fear, people do things like go and get guns. But, there is also a very intense racial aspect."

Judiciary Finance Bill

This bill had a 10 percent cut for the Minnesota State Human Rights Department. Ellison offered an amendment to charge $75 for each corporation that wants to do business with the state. Businesses must apply for an Affirmative Action certificate, which, said Ellison, takes approximately $150 worth of staff time.

"That’s going to raise close to $300,000 over the biennium. The department was going to be down by $650,000, but now it’ll only be down by $300,000," said Ellison.

Public Defenders

Ellison said that the Public Defenders budget would be cut by 15% in the governor’s budget, but only by 5% in the House budget. "You have a Constitutional right to a lawyer. The danger here is that the Constitutional right to representation is being undermined because if the state doesn’t fund it, then it’s just on paper. If it’s just on paper, there’s nobody there to represent you," said Ellison.

Transportation

House Speaker Steve Sviggum-R, has been speaking highly of a five-year investment in roads and bridges, said Ellison. However, "What they don’t tell you is that there is very little of that investment that’s going to go to urban areas. It’s for suburban people, so they can get on a throughway and get right out to the suburbs," he said.

May 12, 2003
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