MN legislature failed to address racial disparities

The 2021 Minnesota legislative session proved to be a bust when it came to advancing racial equity in a state with some of the worst racial and economic disparities in the nation. “This legislative session, most of our racial equity policy and budget bills were not passed or even considered,” said Brett Grant, director of research and policy at Voices for Racial Justice, during a “missed opportunities” press conference. 

“Even worse,” he said, “the most critical pieces of the legislative process happened behind closed doors.”

Grant’s organization and several other Minnesota nonprofits, coalitions and community leaders worked together as a group to outline and propose a method for identifying the racial equity impacts of legislation through racial equity impact notes, reported Minnpost. It was a means to lay out policies and investments based on a community analysis represented in Voices for Racial Justice’s Racial Equity Impact Assessment (REIA).

The note helps legislators make better policies by asking five key questions. It would require that legislators work in tandem with communities that are most impacted, according to the analysis. Yet, the legislature failed to make racial equity a top priority. 

The group addressed the legislation that did not pass during a digital press conference on July 19. The failure to pass legislation resulted in “missed opportunities” to improve the lives of all Minnesotans, especially Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian Pacific Islander, and People of Color. 

“Missed Opportunities” is a frame that Voices has used in the past in its legislative report cards to define bills that either did not become law or were only partially adopted. Out of seven speakers, each stated what their legislation was and why it was a missed opportunity. 

“Our legislators chose to set aside this opportunity and politicize this bill, ” said Tawanna Black, the founder, and chief executive officer of the Center for Economic Inclusion. Black said they partnered with Voices, employers, job seekers, and racial and justice advocates throughout Minnesota to address and advocate adoption of racial impact notes. At least eight states have directed policymakers to assess bills for their ability to “widen or narrow” racial disparities in education, health, housing, employment, and several other key areas that impact People of Color. 

Sandra Saucedo-Falagan, the tri-chair for the Core Steering Committee of the Coalition to Increase Teachers of Color and American Indian Teachers in Minnesota, said the outcomes from the recently concluded legislative session are mixed for increasing Teachers of Color.

While the number of Teachers of Color will increase as a result of the session, she said it’s unlikely the legislative decisions will increase the percentage of Teachers of Color and American Indian teachers in Minnesota. “The percentage of teachers of color has remained flat over the last decade at 5%, with students of color reaching 37%,” said Saucedo-Falagan.

Among the speakers, Annastacia Belladonna-Carrera, the executive director for Common Cause Minnesota, spoke about redistricting reforms that would remove Minnesota politicians from the process of drawing voting district maps.

In 2019, the grassroots organization worked with Representative Ginny Klevorn (DFL 44-A) to get the reform bill passed in time for the 2021 redistricting cycle, but because of the pandemic and the capital shut down their bill, HF 1605, died in committee. Belladonna-Carrera said this year they tried to move the bill that “put communities at the forefront of the voting and district mapping process.”

She added this was a “major missed opportunity” because “redistricting is at the core of voting rights issues, and to us [Common Cause], civil rights issues as well.” Belladonna-Carrera, as well as several other speakers at the conference, said they will continue to push for their reforms in the 2022 legislative session. 

Sam De Leon welcomes reader responses to sdeleon@spokesman-recorder.com .