North Minneapolis community forum protests cuts to MN Department of Human Rights

Rep. Bobby Joe Champion speaks to human rights forum. (Photo from MDHR Facebook page.)

“We have people who are chipping away at the national level of human rights,” Minnesota Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsey told 75 community members, organizers, and public officials at a North Minneapolis forum protesting proposed cuts to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR).  

A flyer from HIRE Minnesota listing a myriad of supporting community outreach organizations circulated the room with a call to action. MDHR was established to enforce and administer the Minnesota Human Rights Act, which protects people in the state from discrimination on the grounds of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, disability, age, sexual orientation, familial status, and public assistance status. MDHR manages individual case processing, compliance of state contractors, and education and outreach on human rights policies. According to the flyer, "MDHR is the only state department charged with this work, and it provides significantly more protections than the federal government. Without it, most Minnesotans would also have no protection at the local level.”

State Representative Bobby Joe Champion opened the discussion by giving a legislative update on the session that ended May 23, during which cuts to MDHR were passed as part of the Public Safety and Judiciary Finance Omnibus Bill, SF 958. Governor Mark Dayton subsequently vetoed that bill.

In Governor Dayton’s veto letter he wrote, “For citizens this that bill would lengthen the time needed to complete investigations and make determinations on charges. Education and outreach on diversity and discrimination would lessen, possibly causing unfair discriminatory practices. My budget provided the Department of Human rights with barely sufficient funding to perform their mission; your proposal takes that away.

HIRE Minnesota, which was one of the primary organizers of the forum, is a nonprofit organization with a mission to effect change in policies and make officials accountable that govern healthcare, infrastructure, and renewable energy as it relates to public contracts and jobs in Minnesota.

"Discrimination remains a serious problem in Minnesota. Your extreme cut in funding, along with your policy language, would weaken the Human Rights Act and lessen the effectiveness of the Department of Human Rights. That I will not allow.”

State Representative Jeff Hayden told the people, “The bill has really nasty policies. The ideology is wrong and needs to have a balanced approach.” He said although the bill is “mean and destructive,” he is hoping for “counter-destruction.”

Senator Linda Higgins said because Governor Dayton and the lawmakers did not come to a resolution, and if there is not a special session between now and June 30 which results in a resolution, there will be a shutdown of state government on July 1.

Because of state government financial cuts to infrastructure institutions that aid low and middle income people, Governor Dayton vetoed the budget bill. Dayton's Assistant Chief for Special Projects Micah Hines said Governor Dayton has sought to meet the lawmakers composed of majority GOP more than halfway, yet there is still no resolution.

Congressman Keith Ellison made a cameo appearance telling the gathering, “Agency plus activism equals results.” He followed that statement by saying is important, “to make sure we maintain our civil rights and infrastructure based on decisions and choices we want to make.”

Founder of HIRE Minnesota Louis King along with other speakers spoke of the “disparities between the top 2 percent and the 98 percent” incomes and privileges afforded each as presented in the budget bill.

Answering the question with a call to action, Adam Robinson of the Catholic Charities Office for Social Justice bellowed instructions on how to contact Governor Mark Dayton at 651-201-3400, Senator Majority Leader Amy Koch at 651-296-5981, and House Majority Leader Kurt Zellers at 651-296-5502.

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Linda Williams's picture
Linda Williams