Yesterday marked one month since the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers. While Minnesotans deserve overdue changes, our work at the State Capitol to enact real, robust criminal justice reform continues. Here’s an update.
Please join Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, Sen. Jason Isaacson and me this coming Sunday, June 28 at 4pm for a town hall meeting to be held virtually on Zoom.
The Zoom Meeting ID is 984 8383 7887 and the password to join is 336780. To submit a question, please send it with your name and address to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Town Hall” in the subject line. The free Zoom software can be downloaded at http://www.zoom.us. If you want to join by phone call 312-626-6799 and enter the ID and password when prompted. We’re grateful to represent engaged constituents interested in our work at the State Capitol, and we look forward to discussing the issues important to you.
Last week, lawmakers met in a special session to tackle important issues like criminal justice reform, funding to help businesses and communities grappling with COVID-19, and other matters unresolved from the regular session. We reached bipartisan consensus on some important issues, including aid to Minnesota’s small businesses which have largely been left behind by federal aid so far. The legislation we approved created a $62.5 million fund for small business grants, with a focus on businesses with 50 or fewer employees. Applications are now available until July 2, with funding to be distributed via lottery. More information is available from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development. Lawmakers also approved a bill to increase child care assistance program rates – the first in many years – which will bring rates into federal compliance and help childcare providers during this difficult time.
Unfortunately, the biggest letdown was a lack of agreement on urgent criminal justice reform legislation. The People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) Caucus developed the Minnesota Police Accountability Act of 2020, a strong package of reforms with three distinct goals: reclaim community oversight, reform accountability, and reimagine public safety. The Senate Majority wouldn’t consider many of the meaningful provisions in our legislation, which does not include defunding police, and they abruptly adjourned the special session Saturday morning. The whole world was watching our state to see if we’d step up and make these overdue changes, and it was deeply disappointing the special session ended this way. We are continuing to work on the provisions of this bill, and I remain committed to getting them across the finish line.
On a personal note, as a prosecutor and victim rights advocate for 20 years, I know how important it is for people to have trust in the criminal justice system. Without trust, victims don’t report crimes, witnesses don’t come forward or testify, and juries may disbelieve testimony by law enforcement. In addition to addressing systemic racism, reform is necessary in order to restore and help build trust in our criminal justice system.
I am pleased to report that there was bipartisan agreement during the special session on the Education Policy Bill, which contained important measures such as a prohibition on the suspension of children in pre-K programs, a requirement for vaping prevention instruction, and – something I had been working on all year – a new requirement for all licensed teachers to receive mental health training. Other than their homes, students spend more time in school than anywhere else. It’s only appropriate that their teachers are properly equipped to recognize when students are struggling. Here is a story that aired on Channel 5 when we launched this initiative in March.
Currently, only teachers in licensure Tiers 3 and 4 – the most experienced teachers – are required to receive mental health training when they renew their licenses. My bill would expand this requirement to all classroom teachers to help them more effectively understand key warning signs of mental illness, learn suicide prevention best practices, and over the long-term, develop a more in-depth understanding of trauma. The training required by this bill is just one part of the equation, and we will keep working to implement a more comprehensive approach to suicide prevention in our state.
I hope to see you at our Town Hall on Sunday. If you can’t attend, feel free to share your feedback or contact me whenever I can be of any assistance. My email is email@example.com and phone number is 651-269-0141. I also invite you to like or follow me on Facebook. It’s an honor to represent you.