Other’s Opinion: Action is essential at the State Capitol

Published 6:30 am Saturday, July 18, 2020

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As negotiations continue at the Minnesota Legislature, there are welcome signs that leaders may be nearing the kind of compromise that produces movement — and solutions.

Minnesota’s job market is slowly recovering — the jobless rate fell to 8.6 percent in June, down from just under 10% the month before. That, we think, is a testament to the slow, steady reopening Minnesota has undertaken, and the safety measures it’s maintained to combat the global pandemic. Still, hundreds of thousands remain out of work, and the path of the virus is uncertain.

Minnesotans need the bonding bill still under debate at the Legislature. The version in the works now would amount to $1.8 billion for infrastructure improvements from a variety of sources. That would go a long way toward providing a boost not just to the economy overall, but to the construction industry, which continues to lag.

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DFL Speaker Melissa Hortman and Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka have a working agreement, but the sticking point remains House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, whose insistence on first ending Gov. Tim Walz’ emergency powers has blocked progress since before the regular session ended in May. Hortman, in talking to an editorial writer, noted that 55 U.S. states and territories are under emergency powers so that leaders can act swiftly against COVID-19. “We have great agreement among three of the caucuses,” she said.

There also appears to have been movement on a police accountability package, badly needed to bring some uniformity and trust to law enforcement work across the state. “The tough part is getting the details and the language, but it does feel like there’s been progress there,” Gazelka said at a recent news conference. Given the civil unrest following the death of George Floyd, it is unthinkable that this session would end without the passage of significant police accountability measures that reflect a variety of community voices.

That unrest left its mark on the Twin Cities, and major restoration efforts are underway. It is disheartening that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) rejected a request for a modest $16 million in disaster relief. Minnesotans were ill-served by U.S. Rep. Tom Emmer’s decision to withhold support for such relief. The Sixth District congressman, who also is head of the National Republican Campaign Committee, sent a letter to President Donald Trump seeking an investigation into state officials’ handling of the unrest.

As U.S. Rep. Dean Phillips, a Democrat representing the Third District, noted in an interview with an editorial writer, Minnesota is a net contributor to the federal coffers. “The few times we make a request for assistance should be given full consideration and this wasn’t,” he said.

Gov. Tim Walz is planning to appeal FEMA’s decision, but Phillips said that without unified support among the delegation, that may fail as well. “The core question here,” he said, “is will this fall only on Minnesota taxpayers, or on a federal government that we have been supporting for decades?”

We urge Emmer to reconsider and spare Minnesotans from having to bear the full burden of recovery. Postmortems can follow, but aid should not be contingent on that.

Minnesota lawmakers, despite having failed to reach agreements in the regular session and the first special session, can hit reset by moving ahead and finishing their work. If at some point they want to end the governor’s emergency powers, they first should prove to Minnesotans that they can bridge differences and act swiftly to meet the state’s needs.