The Potluck

Minnesotans could vote to remove ‘slavery’ reference in state constitution

By: - February 20, 2020 12:12 pm

A group of state lawmakers have introduced a bill at the Capitol that would give Minnesotans a chance to vote to remove references to slavery and involuntary servitude from the Minnesota Constitution. 

The legislation, sponsored in the House by state Rep. John Lesch, DFL-St.Paul, was inspired by a recent Facebook post by St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell. 

Article 1, Section 2 of the state’s constitution technically allows slavery and involuntary servitude “as punishment for a crime of which the party has been convicted.” The legislation would ask voters to decide in the upcoming election whether to remove the phrase referencing slavery or involuntary servitude as punishment.

The amendment would ultimately become effective if approved by a majority of those voting.

“Even today, 162 years since the State of Minnesota banned slavery and servitude, there is still an exception in our Constitution that allows it,” Axtell wrote on Facebook.“Slavery is not a Minnesota value…That’s why I’m making it my 2020 resolution to raise awareness of this clause to ignite a movement among people who care about doing what’s right—a movement to champion an amendment removing slavery from the Minnesota State Constitution.”

The Senate version of the bill is sponsored by state Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, one of the handful of Black state legislators in Minnesota. 

“Our shared future should be based on correcting the past as we all strive for and build a bright and promising future for our children and grandchildren,” Champion said in a statement. “So, we, the people, must make sure that the Minnesota Constitution reflects our shared belief in the value of all human life and delete any language to the contrary.”

Colorado voters in 2018 approved of removing references to slavery from their state constitution . The legislative effort there was a bipartisan one — so far, no Minnesota Republicans have signed on to the legislation introduced this week. 

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez

Ricardo Lopez was a senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.