The Legislature is entering the final full two weeks of the 2023 session with the fate of Minnesotans resting in the hands of a Democrat trifecta hell bent on sending state spending into orbit, gouging taxpayers, and generally using a paper-thin majority to advance the most extreme partisan agenda this state has ever seen.
And it’s not even close.
Democrats in the House and the Senate have brought their respective budget packages to preliminary passage. The package House Democrats have passed combines to raise state spending by 40 percent and increase taxes by $9.5 billion at a time the state has a $17.5 billion surplus. Conference committees are now working to reconcile differences between what each body approved.
Once House Democrats agree with Senate Democrats on exactly how much to raise spending and increase taxes, those bills will come back for votes on final passage and, ultimately, be presented to the Democrat governor for enactment.
As a member of the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee, I am interested to see if the conference committee makes any improvements over the version House Democrats approved for that section of the state budget. I’m not holding my breath, but I am interested, and I encourage the conference committee to take honest and thorough stock of its work. I think it's when our ideas are challenged, when our premise is turned upside down and inside out and we must put it back together again, that's the opportunity to improve.
I've learned a lot through our public safety work and have been introduced to several organizations that I was not previously aware of – with messages I was open to hearing. For example, the concept of restorative justice is something I think has tremendous value that needs to be explored. The fact 95% of incarcerated folks are going to find themselves back out in the community at some point is an eye-opening statistic.
What are we doing to ensure that those reentries are successful? That's a legitimate concern and I've learned a lot about this subject by getting out into the real world and speaking with people who have a wide variety of perspectives on public safety. I recently did a ride-along with Minneapolis police department, which afforded me the opportunity to later attend a multi-agency briefing with a street-racing task force. I also went to a church in North Minneapolis and had the opportunity to meet with one of the community groups that's serving in North Minneapolis. And, I recently toured the Anoka County jail and was exposed to another broad set of perspectives.
It is interesting that common themes continued to surface during my discussions with all these folks who view public safety problems through very different prisms. From group to group, I heard similar messages regarding what they'd like to see in our approach to public safety.
The first common thread I noted was that offenders need to be held accountable. That means paying a penalty, a punitive penalty for what you have done, the harm that you've committed. Our state is failing by a wide margin in this regard.
Another commonality relates to mental health. I think mistakes were made in the past when we started to break down our mental health supports and our institutions that were made available for people whose mental health capacity has eroded to the point where they've become a danger to themselves and others.
We need to build that back up, but the answer – just like with criminal justice – isn't always to just throw people into a building somewhere and let them languish. There needs to be a spectrum of supports and interventions that we can make with the goal of getting as many people to be productive and self-reliant as possible but recognizing that we're not going to save everyone and that those who can't be saved need to be safely housed.
A third public safety thread groups repeatedly shared relates to underlying moral issues that fuel violations. We are not dealing with a situation where, because somebody is hungry or poor, they turned to crime. I was told time and again that we need to get to these kids and teach them how to do right. That is a moral mission that needs more than money; it needs a certain attitude. We need to have the goal of teaching people how to be productive and proud of their achievements, proud of their accomplishments, and point them toward a merit-based way of looking at life, because that keeps you from crime.
Last, but certainly not least, I heard from every single stakeholder that we need to signal and deliver support for our law enforcement officers. We need to have partnership with our law enforcement, take our criminal justice seriously and have meaningful consequences for people who can't be diverted because they refuse to be. We must start honoring and respecting the people who we entrust with law enforcement responsibilities. That's absolutely essential because, if we don't have people who are willing to do this job, we’ll be left to the whim of criminals.
The radical activist ideology fueling the 2023 legislative session rejects these crucial tenets on arrival. But common sense still prevails out in the real world, even among those who voted for the current majority. Our job is to ensure those rational voices are heard, and I’m proud to serve that role for our community.