Minnesota lawmakers release recommendations to address racial inequality statewide

In the wake of George Floyd’s death, the Minnesota House of Representatives declared racism a public health crisis in our state. Over the months that followed, a group of lawmakers looked at how to address inequality in the state.

The House Select Committee on Racial Justice has now released its 45-page report.

“The impetus was really the untimely killing of George Floyd,” Co-Chair Rep. Ruth Richardson, DFL-Mendota Heights, said. “It really became clear that we really needed to spend some time tracing the history and the legacy of racial inequality in Minnesota and the U.S. as well.”

Richardson and 12 other members started gathering at the end of September.

Rep. Lisa Demuth, a Republican from Cold Spring, served as vice-chair.

“We need to find ways that we can communicate, learn from each other and improve our state overall,” Demuth said. “Systemic racism exists, it’s harmful and we must address it.”

Over six meetings, they worked to define racism and delved into historical trauma. Much of the report serves as a record of inequalities spanning decades. It touches on housing, wealth, wage, education, public safety, maternal and child mortality, health and human services, environmental and tobacco disparities.

“We have sort of this tale of two states, this great quality of life versus these deep disparities and inequalities,” Richardson said. “It’s not enough to just spout off the numbers and say you know Minnesota is 50th in homeownership for Black Minnesotans, in terms of looking at the opportunity gap, but to really put a face on how we got here.”

The report includes 83 recommendations.

It calls for increased subsidies for early childhood care and education, tuition-free community college for students with financial needs, and mandated training for teachers, administrators and paraprofessionals in restorative, anti-racism and trauma-informed practices.

It recommends more investments in programs to train, retain and promote teachers and health care workers of color.

The report calls for expanded health care resources and coverage for pregnant women and mothers. It recommends creating a paid family medical leave program.

There are several public safety changes suggested, including cash bail and asset forfeiture reform, the decriminalization of marijuana and raising the age to 18 to try individuals as an adult.

It calls for investments in minority-owned businesses and real estate development projects.

“When you think about inequality in this state and in this country, it’s not just in one system, it’s really across every single system,” Richardson said. “It’s also really important to understand the conversations that we’re having, there’s definitely a moral sort of element to this in terms of addressing systemic racism and inequality but there is also an economic argument to be made as well.”

The report calls for a $1 billion BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) Capital Fund, dedicated to projects that spur economic development in communities of color.

“Being able to invest in small minority businesses is really key to addressing the income inequality and also just the net worth inequality that we see as well,” Richardson said. “Small businesses, they buy locally, they hire locally and so there is a lot of loss when you don’t have equitable access to capital.”

She told 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS that she’s hopeful it will develop into legislation and pass this upcoming session. Addressing economic disparities, she said, will be critical.

“Looking at the data in 2020, since the COVID pandemic, over half of Black Minnesotans have lost their jobs, so one in two have lost their jobs, and when you look at that compared to white Minnesotans it’s one in four,” Richardson said. “Even prior to the pandemic there were disparities, now they are deepening.”

Demuth also points to the unrest over the summer.

“We do need to take a look at how we can help businesses that are struggling,” she said. “We know that the areas that were devastated during the rioting were disproportionately hit and so we do need to look at how to assist those.”

For Demuth, education will also be a top priority.

“Our achievement gap is large,” Demuth said. “We didn’t have a hearing on education specifically. I think that is something we really want to take a look at. […] We know that when there are teachers of colors, teachers that represent how our students actually look or view themselves, that can help.”

In addition, both lawmakers hope to address the disproportional rate at which Black women die in childbirth.

“We see Black women three to four times more likely to die during pregnancy and childbirth, and black infants being twice as likely to die before their first birthday,” Richardson said.

Rep. Demuth said, “When you hear the maternal child mortality rate, that’s really difficult and when we know that our Black moms are facing a higher incident of that than the white. We need to look at the systems in place and how can we change that.”

Demuth wants to have time for public input on the recommendations this upcoming session as they consider how to move forward with legislation. The Legislative session starts on Jan. 5.

“It’s a marathon, it’s not a sprint,” she said. “I think this is a really great starting point but it will determine how our work can move forward.”

The lawmakers hope the report will inform legislators as they make decisions within all of the committees this session.

“Really to work together to really think about how do we build a Minnesota that works for everyone,” Richardson said. “When we talk about systemic racism and its harms, it’s not just the harm that inflicts on people who look like me or other BIPOC communities but it really harms all of us, so we all have a vested interest in addressing systemic racism.”