Last Friday, the Minnesota Legislature reconvened for a special session. My colleagues and I are making the most of this opportunity to enact police accountability and criminal justice reforms, deliver assistance to small businesses and local governments dealing with COVID-19, rebuild communities impacted by civil unrest, and complete unfinished business from the regular session, including the Jobs and Local Projects Bill.
Police and Criminal Justice Reform
Minnesotans are demanding a fundamental change in the way we think about public safety. The killing of George Floyd reinforces the fact that we can’t merely look to improve the system; we must change it completely. We must narrow the scope of police work, channeling those investments into mental health support, housing, education, chemical dependency assistance, and other essential services. We must push ourselves further to close the wealth and income gap because our current economic system does nothing but perpetuate generational poverty. Only when we address all of these systems and how they intersect will we have a society where people have the safety and security to thrive and not just survive.
One of our top priorities for this special session is passing the Minnesota Police Accountability Act, a package of long overdue police accountability and criminal justice measures. This legislation, which was introduced by People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) Caucus members, will reform accountability, reclaim community oversight, and reimagine public safety. I’m carrying two of the bills that are included. One reforms the current arbitration process involving police officers, which helps hold officers accountable for misconduct, and the other modifies data practices statutes.
This weekend, the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee held a hearing to review these proposals. If you’d like to learn more about them, you can read an overview of the hearing here or watch it here.
Economic Relief for Small Businesses
When the Minnesota House and Senate convened on Friday, our first order of business was approving $62.5 million in grants for small businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic – with $60 million coming from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act. Under the bill, small businesses with 50 or fewer employees can receive grants up to $10,000. Priority will be given to Minnesota’s smallest businesses and those that were required to operate at 50 percent capacity or less. $10 million of the funding will go to minority-owned businesses, and $2.5 million each is reserved for women-owned businesses, veteran-owned businesses, and ethnic malls with at least 25 vendors.
Rebuilding Our Communities
In addition to supporting businesses that are struggling due to the pandemic, we need to help businesses that were impacted by civil unrest. These businesses are vital to our communities, and many of them are owned by Minnesotans of color. Yesterday, I joined my House DFL colleagues to unveil the PROMISE Act, a comprehensive plan to help damaged businesses rebuild and recover. This legislation will support and rebuild communities in an equitable way. It contains proposals that would:
- Create a special panel to review cases and provide direct compensation to impacted individuals
- Partner with cities and community organizations to create economic relief programs for impacted businesses and organizations
- Give local units of government flexibility and tools to prevent gentrification
- Direct the Minnesota Department of Commerce to assist business owners and require insurance companies to notify the department of any rejected claims
- Help with the rising cost of leases for eligible residential and commercial properties
- Eliminate the sales tax on the purchase of construction materials used to rebuild damaged or destroyed properties
- Provide property and sales tax cuts for eligible properties
- Establish a “Metropolitan Area Redevelopment Corporation” to create a long-term plan for equity-driven redevelopment and transformation
The PROMISE Act was inspired by conversations legislators have had with business owners and community members. I hope to continue having these conversations in the days and weeks ahead.
Please don’t hesitate to share your thoughts on these issues and others that are important to you. It’s an honor to represent our community.
Rep. Kaohly Her