Dozens of supporters and opponents of the Minnesota Equal Rights Amendment legislation held signs – green in support, red in opposition – outside the Minnesota House chamber in the State Capitol building in St. Paul, Minn., on Monday, May 13, 2024, ahead of a crucial House floor vote on the legislation. Source: AP Photo/Trisha Ahmed

Minnesota Equal Rights Amendment Fails in Acrimonious End to Legislative Session

Steve Karnowski READ TIME: 4 MIN.

Minnesota lawmakers failed to pass a state Equal Rights Amendment that would have enshrined protections for abortion and LGBTQ+ rights in the state Constitution as the 2024 legislative session came to an acrimonious end.

The Minnesota ERA was the one of the biggest casualties as partisan rancor, lengthy debates and filibusters were fueled by the continued participation of a Democratic senator who was arrested on a burglary charge. Democrats, who hold just a one-vote majority in the Senate, needed her vote to pass any legislation that lacked bipartisan support.

A compromise to legalize sports betting also failed to cross the finish line by the midnight Sunday deadline. So did a public infrastructure borrowing package known as a bonding bill that was supposed to be the centerpiece of the session. Neither could pass without at least some GOP support. But Republicans who said they were frozen out were unwilling to supply the votes needed for the 60% supermajorities required for new debt unless Democrats dropped the ERA. And enough Democrats were opposed to sports betting, so that some GOP votes were essential.

The ERA would have prohibited discrimination against anyone on the basis of race, color, national origin, ancestry, disability or sex – including gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation. Authors opted not to include the word "abortion," which critics called a deceptive move. The text instead would have protected the right to be "making and effectuating decisions about all matters relating to one's own pregnancy or decision whether to become or remain pregnant."

But the amendment's authors didn't unveil the language until three weeks before adjournment. Anti-abortion and conservative religious groups mobilized their supporters against it, and Republican lawmakers slammed on the brakes. It took the House around 15 hours of debate spread over several days to pass it, and time ran out Sunday night before Senate leaders could bring it to a vote.

Democratic leaders early Monday said lawmakers did, nevertheless, pass important, if lower profile legislation that built on a hugely productive 2023 session. They also defended their decision at the end to roll several bills into one massive package so they could save time – something that drew loud and sustained angry objections from Republicans who said they were being silenced.

"When a minority is especially obstructive, the majority has no choice but to use these tactics, and has on many occasions in the past," House Speaker Melissa Hortman, of Brooklyn Park," told reporters.

"The work that we've done is going to last for generations. So the spectacle will fade, but the work will remain," added Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy, of St. Paul.

Gov. Tim Walz said Monday he will not call a special session to try again to pass the ERA – or anything else that died in the final hours. But Hortman said the ERA could come up again next year. The November election will determine whether Democrats keep their House majority, which they would need to take another run at putting the amendment on the 2026 ballot. The Senate is not up for election this year.

Legalizing sports betting was another compromise that didn't come together until it was too late. Sponsors from both parties said they thought they had a plan that would have bridged wide differences between the state's tribal casinos, horse racing tracks and charitable gambling operators. It never got a vote amid the end-of-session traffic jam, but might be back next year.

Here are some other items of national interest that the Legislature did – or didn't – accomplish before the final gavel fell:

The session was roiled by the arrest last month of Democratic Sen. Nicole Mitchell, of Woodbury, on a felony burglary charge for allegedly breaking into her estranged stepmother's home to take personal items of her late father's, including his ashes. A Senate ethics panel deferred action until after the session, allowing her to keep casting deciding votes. Republican attempts to limit her participation or expel her failed, but burned up many precious hours in the final weeks.

Penalties will rise to the felony level under for "straw purchases" of firearms on behalf of people ineligible to possess guns. It's a response to the killings of three first responders in Burnsville in February by a convicted felon who allegedly got his guns through his girlfriend. The legislation also bans "binary triggers," which convert ordinary firearms into rapid-fire weapons.

Democratic Gov. Tim Walz signed the Minnesota Voting Rights Act, joining several other states in trying to plug gaps opened by court rulings in the federal Voting Rights Act of 1965, one of the crowning achievements of the Civil Rights Movement. The Minnesota law ensures that private individuals and groups can challenge laws that dilute or suppress the votes of people of color, a right that an appeals court had struck down in seven states including Minnesota.

A hard-fought compromise that led the ride-sharing companies Lyft and Uber to drop their threats to pull out of Minnesota was one of the few big successes of the final weekend. Uber and Lyft agreed to a new minimum pay rate of $1.28 per mile and 31 cents per minute, starting next January. An Uber spokesperson said the coming price increases may hurt riders and drivers alike. But Walz said the deal gives rideshare drivers a 20% raise and keeps these important services operating in Minnesota.

The governor also signed a ban on book bans that will prohibit public and school libraries from removing materials based only on content or ideological objections. Activists say books by LGBTQ+ authors and authors of color are among those most frequently banned. Minnesota is among the first Democratic-led states countering the trend playing out in more conservative states where book challenges have soared to their highest levels in decades.

People buying tickets online for concerts, sporting events and other live events in Minnesota will be guaranteed more transparency and protection under the so-called Taylor Swift bill. The law, prompted by the frustration a legislator felt at not being able to buy tickets to Swift's 2023 concert in Minneapolis, will require ticket sellers to disclose all fees up front, among other measures.

by Steve Karnowski

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