Senator John Marty on State Budget Forecast

Today, Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) released the November budget forecast which revealed a budget surplus of $7.7 billion for the FY 2022-2023 biennium. In response, Senator John Marty, Minority Lead on the Senate Finance Committee, released the following statement:

“Today’s state budget forecast provides excellent news. In these economically volatile times, amidst a long-running pandemic, this financial news is a positive shot in the arm.

The forecast provides a huge opportunity, and the unexpected gain in revenue is wonderful news. But a housing shortage around the state, along with COVID-19, has created an economic emergency for many working families. We have ongoing hospital and healthcare problems, and our nursing homes and daycare providers face big financial needs. Schools, which have faced so many extra challenges during COVID-19, barely kept up with inflation in the last budget. Additionally, climate change is a crisis that needs immediate action.

There are growing economic disparities in Minnesota that have been aggravated by the pandemic. Many corporations have seen record profits – as is clearly illustrated in this forecast – yet too many families are economically stressed, struggling to afford housing and food. The state still has not addressed the additional risks faced by essential workers who kept the economy running during the pandemic. We must ensure that all Minnesotans thrive.

As past forecasts have not always been reliable projections of how the economy will fare, we must remember that this is a forecast, not a guarantee. This is important to recognize, because twenty-two years ago, the state made a series of unwise decisions in the face of good financial news. The legislature passed deep tax cuts that ultimately hamstrung our schools and significantly set back housing, health, transportation, and other public needs for most of the following decade. Let’s not repeat that mistake.

Republican calls for spending enormous amounts of money on tax cuts and unemployment insurance would spend much of this revenue before the state has a chance to address the needs of the workers who built this economy and to build the human infrastructure needed for the future.

Our duty is to be wise stewards of all public resources. I look forward to working together on a responsible plan that meets the needs of Minnesotans now and invests in building a brighter future for all.”

One of many needed policing reforms.

Community Emergency Responders for 911 & Other Public Safety Calls – Senate File 2403

Community Emergency Responders for 911& Other Public Safety Calls – Senate File 2403We can save lives and provide authentic help for people in crisis by using professionals who are best trained to address the situations they face.

Under this proposal, cities or counties would receive matching state funds as an incentive to create Community Emergency Response Teams to provide medical, mental health or other supportive resources to people in crisis and other situations where police are not the most appropriate responders.

For example, we should send mental health professionals to calls involving individuals experiencing a mental health crisis, chemical dependency or other health care professionals to assist persons experiencing problems related to overdoses or substance abuse, social workers to situations involving people experiencing homelessness, and investigators to deal with counterfeit money or expired license tabs and other minor traffic offenses. By using the proper professionals such as mental health experts, social workers, or EMTs to respond, communities can better serve the public, save money, and reduce the number of police and community clashes.

This proposal addresses one aspect of policing reform that has not received much attention until late. It would significantly reduce the number of situations where minor problems escalate into deadly outcomes when police arrive, instead of more-appropriately trained professionals.*

If there is a safety concern, the community response professionals can call upon law enforcement. However, this is rarely needed. In a similar program in Eugene Oregon, less than one percent of the calls referred to them required police assistance. I introduced Senate File 2403 to provide state funds to assist local governments who shift some emergency responses from law enforcement to alternative professionals. These alternative responders would triage initial 911 calls and send the properly trained crisis workers for issues such as drug overdoses, mental health crises or for people experiencing homelessness who need assistance.

George Floyd was accused of passing a counterfeit $20 bill. Instead of armed police showing up on the scene, we would have avoided a tragic killing if an investigator contacted him to find out where the money came from. This type of response would potentially lead to information to shut down a counterfeiting operation and it might also identify a person in crisis.

Daunte Wright was pulled over for expired license tabs. There are better ways to collect vehicle registration fees and penalties for expired tabs than to have armed police officers pull over the vehicle – even in the vast majority of such cases that don’t end in a police shooting. We want an appropriate response for each 911 call. In most cases, the appropriate response is not armed police officers.

*An alternative community responder program in Eugene, Oregon has been providing services for over thirty years, reducing their law enforcement costs by four or five dollars for every dollar invested. Of the 24,000 calls they respond to each year, less than 1% require police assistance, and nobody has ever been seriously injured from the work.

Read more here.

Catalytic Converter Theft: An Effective Solution Unfortunately Blocked

After looking at other states for a solution to the vexing problem of catalytic converter theft and finding no good answers, I worked with experts, victims, law enforcement, and colleagues.

Many months later, we found an approach that would make a huge difference. I was proud to push a plan that could prevent many of these costly thefts. Unfortunately, despite repeated requests for a hearing, the Senate Republican chair refused to take up the bill. With no other option, I offered the bill on the Senate Floor. Again, the Senate majority prevented any discussion or vote. They blocked every path for consideration.

Now, another year will go by without a meaningful response to the problem. Perhaps some other states will pass legislation using this model. Unfortunately, thousands of Minnesotans will be hit by converter theft before we next have a chance to address this crime. Learn More.

It’s time to restore the gun ban at the Minnesota State Capitol

Originally appeared in the Star Tribune March 17th, 2021.

The sight of people flaunting assault rifles is becoming commonplace at political rallies of Trump supporters and right-wing causes. During the past year, Michigan, Oregon, Kentucky and Idaho all had incidents where people, armed to the teeth and dressed for combat, walked into their state Capitols to threaten public officials. These incidents made national news because the brazen intimidation was so shocking.

In Minnesota, the carrying of handguns inside the Capitol has become common during legislative hearings on gun regulation issues.

Fifty years ago, it wasn’t this way. In 1967, when the Black Panthers walked into the California state Capitol heavily armed, there was strong bipartisan support for prohibiting the carrying of loaded firearms. Then-Gov. Ronald Reagan and even the NRA supported the Mulford Act, which sharply restricted the carrying of guns, not just in the California Capitol, but elsewhere. Reagan said there is “no reason why on the street today a citizen should be carrying loaded weapons.”

Now however, when it is largely white conservatives who are taking guns to Capitols, the NRA and the Republican Party seem to consider it perfectly appropriate for their allies to use guns to intimidate political opponents.

Security at the Minnesota Capitol has increased significantly, especially in the months since the election and the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol in Washington.

However, unless we change the law, once COVID restrictions are lifted and the public is allowed back in the Capitol, any Minnesotan with a permit to carry can bring a gun, whether concealed or openly visible, throughout the Minnesota Capitol complex.

We do not allow people to bring guns into county courthouses, into many big office buildings in the Twin Cities or at Vikings, Wild and Twins games. Thirty-two other states require people to walk through a metal detector before entering their Capitol buildings.

After passage of Minnesota’s concealed carry law, permit holders were allowed to bring guns into the Capitol. Initially, they were required to notify authorities, so it was easy to track how many were carrying guns. Ordinarily, few people brought guns but there was a spike whenever legislation on gun safety was being considered.

The Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus urged their members to show up, armed, to those committee meetings. There were about 150 notifications for one such hearing in 2013, almost triple the number in the entire previous year.

A hearing on gun legislation does not pose any greater safety risk than other hearings and there is no greater need for personal protection. Opponents of gun legislation carry guns to those hearings to intimidate.

There are other ways guns are used to intimidate as well. One lobbyist told some legislators whom she was lobbying that she carried a gun at the Capitol because she feared people lobbying on the other side of the issue, calling them dangerous — an insidious way of undermining her opponents. It is not surprising that the opponents reported difficulty getting appointments to make their case with legislators.

The 2005 law that allowed carrying of handguns in public allowed the same people to carry assault rifles and other long guns in public. That has led to the increasingly common sight of heavily armed people at rallies and protests. They are not armed for personal protection. They do so to intimidate and strike fear in others.

Minnesotans can consider and discuss gun legislation as rational adults; hearings should be conducted without armed intimidation. Consequently, I have introduced SF 2048, which would prohibit the carrying of guns at the Capitol and restore the law that blocked people from bringing assault rifles to rallies and protests.

We should take security at the Capitol and at political rallies seriously before there is a tragic attack that kills people. At some point, security experts might determine that metal detectors are needed at the Capitol. Unfortunately, metal detectors create an oppressive climate which makes a place feel more militarized and less safe. Whether or not they are necessary now, we should prepare and plan for the possibility in the future, including quick implementation if a credible threat appears. But for now, it’s time to treat the Capitol like county courthouses and other places that prohibit guns. Public discourse on contentious issues can be done in a rational manner without allowing some to intimidate others. Public safety will benefit as well.

Allowing guns at the Capitol in these divided times is a recipe for disaster.