A grass-roots effort to upgrade human rights across Minnesota drew 20 speakers and two legislators to a Martin Luther King-day hearing at Concordia University, St. Paul. A grass-roots effort to upgrade human rights across Minnesota drew 20 speakers and two legislators to a Martin Luther King-day hearing at Concordia University, St. Paul.
The Equality Campaign, which sponsored the hearing, is calling for setting up a new division of state government to oversee and enforce human rights and civil rights across all state departments, in hiring as well as public service. A constitutional amendment would be required to establish the new Human and Civil Rights Department.
Twenty people testified on the need to step up enforcement. Several said complaints that they filed more than a year ago still linger untouched at state or local human rights departments.
William English, co-chairman of the Minneapolis Coalition of Black Churches called for demonstrators to halt work on the I-35W bridge in Minneapolis until the crews include more people of color.
St. Paul NAACP Vice President Dianne Binns said the 50-year-old Minnesota Human Rights Department is "crippled and rusted because the governor and legislature have not given it the resources to be a well-oiled machine."
Rep. Michael Paymar (DFL-St. Paul) agreed that elected officials have "starved" the department of funds. He added that citizens also need to do more active lobbying. Next session, he said, the House will hold hearings on the department.
Rep. Phyllis Kahn (DFL-Minneapolis) said it would be difficult to pass a constitutional amendment to create a new governmental division. "I think we have to look at our existing institutions," she said adding that she will investigate workforce diversity on the I-35W bridge project as well as at the two new stadiums, and she will make sure the new state disparity study is integrated with local studies.