ST. PAUL — A reference to slavery and involuntary servitude in the Minnesota Constitution would be struck under a proposal circulating at the state Capitol.
State lawmakers along with St. Paul Police Chief Todd Axtell on Thursday, Feb. 20, presented their bill that would amend the state Constitution to more clearly state that neither slavery nor involuntary servitude would be authorized as a punishment for a crime under the law.
Slavery has been outlawed since Minnesota became a state in 1858, but a piece of the Constitution currently 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.” And the words pose a painful reminder of the nation's history with slavery and of remaining struggles for people of color in the state. Rep. Rena Moran, D-St. Paul, said.
"As the great-great-granddaughter of slaves, this issue is personal to me. It's a matter of human dignity, it's unacceptable for our state to sanction slavery or involuntary servitude under any context," Moran said. "This amendment won't solve every problem that African Americans still face, it will, however, provide a pathway helping to heal century-old wounds."
Rep. John Lesch, D-St. Paul, and Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, D-Minneapolis, along with Moran, put forth a bill that would remove from that sentence the clause “otherwise than as punishment for a crime of which the party has been convicted.” If approved in the Legislature, it would also have to be approved by a majority of voters in November before the Constitution would be amended.
Axtell on New Year's Eve posted on Facebook that it was his resolution to remove the language from the Constitution. He said he was inspired by other states that have taken similar action. Colorado removed similar language last year and Nebraska, Utah and Vermont are considering similar changes.
"It's important that the Constitution reflect our shared Minnesota values," Axtell said. "People who are paying their debt to society should not be viewed and should not be treated as if they're slaves. Words matter, Minnesota and we can do better."
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, on Thursday said he was considering the amendment along with another proposed to enshrine in the Constitution the right to a quality public education.