It was a tense week at the Minnesota Capitol.
Host Mike Mulcahy discussed the issues surrounding enhanced penalties for protests, a new DFL group that wants to work for racial equity, and the partisan gulf on the state budget.
The right to protest vs. the right to travel freely.
A provision of the House public safety bill would increase the penalty for protesters who block traffic and transit from a misdemeanor to a gross misdemeanor, which could mean a year of jail time and increased fines.
Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, introduced the legislation back in March. He believes that assemblies that block traffic are unlawful and unsafe.
“This has been the go to tactic, to cripple the freeway system or block access to the airport, and Minnesotans are fed up with it,” said Zerwas.
However, Rep. Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, believes that this bill targets specific groups and is steeped in political tension.
“Protests are the go to method for people who want to be heard. It clearly isn’t a content neutral proposal,” said Hortman, who then listed groups who have used this tactic in the past, including Black Lives Matter, and people who want to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour.
Hortman says “100 percent white male card game” were so people would hear important debate
While members of Hortman’s caucus were delivering speeches regarding the bill on Monday, some House members from both parties were in the private retiring room playing a game of cards.
Hortman asked that those members come back to the floor to hear what the presenters: “Hate to break up the 100 percent while male card game in the retiring room, but I think this is an important debate.”
She was called upon to apologize but did not.
“I got so frustrated during the debate because it’s really an incredible thing that we have four native women in our caucus … the very least we can do is listen,” said Hortman.
Zerwas said he learned by listening to that debate. “I am not here to dispute that there are inequalities…there are great areas where we need to make improvement,” he said.
However, Zerwas believes public safety is of the utmost importance. He cited an incident where an officer was injured during a protest when someone dropped a cinder block off an overpass.
“He wouldn’t have been there,” said Zerwas, had there not been protests on the freeway.
People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) lawmakers want their voices heard in the end-of-session negotiations
Rep. Peggy Flanagan, DFL-St. Louis Park, is one of several DFL lawmakers who have formed a news caucus with the goal of meeting the needs of minority residents and closing the state’s racial disparities.
“The goal of the POCI caucus is to ensure that people of color and indigenous folks are included in decision making here at the Capitol,” said Flanagan.
Flanagan said the caucus formed this year and has nine members.
“When I first started, I was surprised how often we would author legislation without speaking to the people would be directly affected by that legislation,” said Flanagan.
Big disagreements loom over budget and policy
Gov. Mark Dayton teed off on Republican budget bills Friday, citing several provisions that are unacceptable to him, including a delay in clean water buffer regulations, cutting the Public Utilities Commission out of the approval process for a new pipeline in northern Minnesota, and restrictions on abortion funding.
The governor says he can’t even agree on budget numbers with Republicans.
MPR News reporter Brian Bakst says some of the disagreements are typical of the posturing that happens when two sides begin negotiations.
But with House Republicans proposing a tax cut more than $1 billion higher than what Dayton recommended and cuts in projected health and human services spending growth, he says it will be difficult to reach an agreement.
“It seems like a deal is quite a ways off,” said Bakst.
To hear the entire conversation use the audio player above