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.