Lawmakers target slavery clause in Minnesota Constitution

Minnesota lawmakers have launched a drive to remove a clause allowing slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for crimes from the state constitution.

Posted: Feb 20, 2020 2:51 PM

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Spurred by a police chief, Minnesota lawmakers launched a drive Thursday to remove from the state constitution a clause allowing slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment for crimes.

St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell, who had been bothered by the language for some time, made it his new year's resolution to get it deleted. He found a sympathetic ear in St. Paul Democratic Rep. John Lesch, who will get a hearing Tuesday on his proposal asking voters in November to remove the offending language from the constitution.

The bill of rights in the 1857 Minnesota Constitution says “there shall be neither slavery nor involuntary servitude in the state otherwise than as punishment for a crime of which the party has been convicted.” The amendment would strike the punishment exception, leaving a total ban in place.

“It's inappropriate that language mentioning slavery still exists in our constitution, even if's narrowly constructed and, some would say, obsolete,” Lesch said at a news conference. “While we've undoubtedly made progress in expanding civil rights, racial bias remains persistent in our state and we see the effects of that in the news every day.”

Axtell said it's important that the constitution reflect Minnesota's shared values.

“This isn't a St. Paul thing. This isn't a Minneapolis thing. This isn't a metro thing. This is a state thing,” the police chief said. “It's important that this wording is removed.”

Colorado voters removed permissive slavery language from their constitution in 2018, while it will be on the ballot in Utah and Nebraska in November after passing Republican-controlled legislatures in those states. The Vermont General Assembly needs to approve a similar amendment a second time to put it on the 2022 ballot. The U.S. Constitution still contains similar language.

If the language is troubling for Axtell and Lesch, who are white, it's personal to Democratic Rep. Rena Moran, the great-great granddaughter of slaves, who said it's unacceptable to sanction slavery or involuntary servitude under any context.

“Black Americans still carry multi-generational trauma from that dark period in our nation's early history," Moran said. She went on to add, “Make no mistake, this amendment won't solve every problem that African Americans still face. It will, however, provide a pathway helping to heal century-old wounds.”

The proposal seems likely to win support in the Democratic-controlled House. It's being sponsored in the Republican-controlled Senate by Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, an African American from Minneapolis, who is hopeful he can persuade Senate leaders to take it up. No organized opposition has emerged.

GOP Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said at a separate news conference Thursday that he's “certainly willing to take a look at it.”

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 554536

Reported Deaths: 7083
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1155051679
Ramsey47786853
Dakota42410422
Anoka38477415
Washington24913273
Stearns20994218
St. Louis16774297
Scott15946117
Wright14764127
Olmsted1273297
Sherburne1060080
Carver980145
Clay781289
Rice7632101
Blue Earth695840
Kandiyohi627380
Crow Wing615086
Chisago548250
Otter Tail542673
Benton530597
Mower450532
Goodhue442471
Douglas441870
Winona438149
Nobles400248
Morrison394659
McLeod394355
Isanti375159
Beltrami372257
Itasca370752
Polk365367
Steele361914
Becker353948
Lyon347848
Carlton329352
Freeborn326829
Pine311821
Nicollet306542
Brown294439
Mille Lacs281250
Le Sueur269722
Todd268730
Cass249626
Meeker235937
Waseca231221
Martin212529
Wabasha19953
Roseau197318
Renville172043
Hubbard171841
Dodge17123
Redwood166435
Houston162614
Cottonwood156821
Fillmore15169
Pennington150619
Chippewa145836
Wadena144021
Faribault143419
Sibley135710
Kanabec130621
Aitkin128636
Watonwan12549
Rock122719
Jackson117310
Yellow Medicine110419
Pipestone109725
Murray10229
Pope10226
Swift99518
Marshall85617
Stevens82010
Lake78419
Clearwater77414
Koochiching76913
Wilkin76812
Lac qui Parle73522
Big Stone5644
Lincoln5592
Grant5478
Norman5229
Mahnomen5048
Unassigned49578
Kittson46622
Red Lake3877
Traverse3595
Lake of the Woods3053
Cook1450

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 357796

Reported Deaths: 5821
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk55970604
Linn20297330
Scott19082234
Black Hawk15550306
Woodbury14897221
Johnson1404281
Dubuque13153202
Dallas1089196
Pottawattamie10747162
Story1031147
Warren555186
Clinton537390
Cerro Gordo521986
Webster508291
Sioux506073
Marshall477174
Muscatine459896
Des Moines441465
Wapello4253120
Buena Vista421740
Jasper407670
Plymouth397079
Lee368155
Marion354575
Jones293055
Henry286137
Bremer279260
Carroll279151
Crawford262040
Boone258533
Benton250355
Washington249550
Dickinson242043
Mahaska224850
Jackson217942
Kossuth212663
Clay211025
Tama206671
Delaware202839
Winneshiek194433
Page190321
Buchanan188831
Cedar183823
Fayette182941
Wright180435
Hardin179942
Hamilton178049
Harrison176373
Clayton167055
Butler162534
Mills158620
Cherokee157138
Floyd155342
Lyon154741
Madison153919
Poweshiek152733
Allamakee149051
Iowa145524
Hancock143534
Winnebago136031
Grundy135232
Cass134354
Calhoun133211
Jefferson130635
Emmet128840
Shelby128337
Sac127219
Louisa126849
Appanoose126747
Mitchell125241
Union124032
Chickasaw122615
Humboldt118326
Guthrie117929
Franklin112721
Palo Alto110922
Howard102822
Montgomery100637
Unassigned10030
Clarke98223
Keokuk94530
Monroe94128
Ida89633
Adair84532
Pocahontas83621
Monona81230
Davis79924
Greene76710
Osceola75516
Lucas74923
Worth7078
Taylor65212
Fremont6139
Decatur5899
Van Buren55518
Ringgold53623
Wayne52123
Audubon4949
Adams3284
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