Increased Local Government Aid from the state, various racial equity initiatives and support for more affordable housing and capital improvement projects are among the items on a 15-page legislative agenda approved by the Saint Paul City Council on January 20.

COVID-19 made last year’s session a difficult one for the Minnesota Legislature with an unprecedented seven special sessions, according to ThaoMee Xiong, Saint Paul’s director of intergovernmental relations. The ongoing pandemic is also affecting how lawmakers are working this year, Xiong said, with the House meeting online and the Senate employing a hybrid of online and in-person meetings.

Staff in Mayor Melvin Carter’s office worked with the Racial Equity Legislative Advocacy Workgroup on the city’s priorities for the current session. The group is made up of the representatives of 25 nonprofit organizations and city employees working to advance racial equity in the areas of health and economics. Many of those initiatives are related to the pandemic and its disproportionate impact on immigrants and people of color.

Among the legislation being sought are more protections for tenants facing eviction and additional funding for emergency services, nonprofit organizations and small businesses. The city is lobbying for an easing of the sanctions for drivers’ license suspensions brought about by unpaid fines and fees for misdemeanor and felony offenses.

Among the legislation being sought are more protections for tenants facing eviction … an easing of sanctions for drivers’ license suspensions brought about by unpaid fines and fees … and support for rebuilding neighborhoods affected by last summer’s civil unrest.

Saint Paul is also seeking support for rebuilding neighborhoods affected by last summer’s civil unrest, for investments in education and for compensation for workers who have been sidelined by COVID-19. The city is calling for a permanent base budget of $15 million for the state’s Emergency Fund, which provides temporary and permanent housing and support services. Bonding to build affordable housing, protections for landlords who keep rents at affordable levels, and tenants rights programs are other legislation the city is supporting.

The city is supporting legislation that would restrict firearm purchases to people who have been deemed to pose a risk to themselves or others. It wants marijuana legalized for recreational use and the taxes derived from its sale dedicated to education and “community wealth-building” programs.

 

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The city is pushing for the funding of a new bridge over I-94 in the Summit-University neighborhood and more money for street, bikeway and transit projects. It is requesting the state’s help in urban forest management, including ongoing funding to identify, remove and replace trees infected by the emerald ash borer.

Saint Paul is also seeking $3 million in bonding to construct a River Learning Center at Crosby Farm Regional Park. Initial studies have been completed for the center, and the city has an agreement with the National Park Service to be a tenant and partner in the project. Other bonding requests include replacement of the 84-year-old bridge on eastbound Kellogg Boulevard near RiverCentre and improvements at Como Park Zoo and Conservancy.

— Jane McClure

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