Other’s opinion: Minnesota Legislature still has a long to-do list

Published 6:50 am Saturday, June 27, 2020

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Star Tribune

Days have passed since negotiations broke down last weekend at the Minnesota Legislature and, regrettably, not much has changed. The Senate and House failed to reach agreement on bills before the Senate adjourned and there is, as yet, no set date for another special session.

And yet the work — important work and lots of it — remains undone.

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Most pressing is how to dispense $841 million in federal aid to local governments across the state hit hard by the pandemic. For some, the health toll has been heavy, but even those without high case rates have suffered from the economic impact of months of closure and quarantine.

They should wait no longer. Gov. Tim Walz is set to use his emergency powers to distribute that money, a move the Star Tribune Editorial Board supports. The Legislature originally had a bipartisan agreement on distributing the money based on population. Talks broke down over whether to set aside some funds for future hot spots — an eminently sensible proposal, but there are additional funds that can cover that. Had they taken just a little more time, legislators might have worked through their differences and passed a bill to be signed. They did not, and so have forfeited the right to criticize the unilateral action Walz must take to move those funds out.

Hennepin and Ramsey counties got their funding separately. It is the rest of the state that finds itself waiting and waiting for money long since allocated by Washington but still in limbo.

That still leaves some big issues the Legislature should tackle. There’s need for a substantial bonding bill to counteract the pandemic-induced recession. Low interest rates and worthy projects abound, and it is the single best economic jump-starter at the state’s disposal.

But dwarfing that in importance is the need for law enforcement reforms in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death at the hands of police.

In an earlier interview with an editorial writer, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said that in talking to residents in Minneapolis, “I don’t think I had one who wanted to get rid of police entirely. They wanted to know police were doing their job well.”

Star Tribune reporter Maya Rao encountered a similar sentiment in the wake of gunfire on Minneapolis’ North Side. “I know on one side of the city, it looks beautiful for defunding to happen,” she was told by Keion Franklin as investigators marked shell casings that fell inches from where his car had driven. “But here on this side of the city, I’m scared if you defund the police … is it going to turn into World War III over here?”

There can be at once a recognized need for law enforcement and an insistence on ending overly aggressive tactics that jeopardize — and sometimes end — people’s lives, as the Editorial Board wrote Sunday. It is not often you get a police chief characterizing an officer-involved death as “murder,” as Minneapolis Chief Medario Arradondo described the Floyd case this week, saying the officers who made the arrest did not lack training.

That makes it all the more imperative that legislators return to negotiations to work through their differences, to hear public testimony that challenges their thinking, and to emerge — however long it takes — with the policing reforms that are needed.