One casualty of the failed 2020 special session is legislation that would have provided financial help to scorched neighborhoods damaged by the unrest following George Floyd’s death.
The bill, House File 132 from Rep. Mohamud Noor, DFL-Minneapolis, passed the House by a 74-53 vote on June 19.
However, it had no Senate companion and the upper chamber never took it up before breaking for an overnight recess, just before 11 p.m. on June 19. That pause was interrupted just long enough to reconvene at dawn for the 35-32 Senate vote that effectively ended the special session.
The Noor bill, dubbed the Providing Resources, Opportunity and Maximizing Investments in Striving Entrepreneurs (PROMISE) Act aimed to help rebuild the approximately 1,500 businesses that were damaged or destroyed in arson fires that plagued Lake Street, University Avenue and Broadway after Floyd’s death in police custody.
“Members, this is what we need to do,” Noor said during House floor debate on June 19. “This is what the communities are asking for during this difficult time.”
Among its features, the economic recovery omnibus package included a $167.6 million appropriation from the state’s general fund in fiscal year 2020, to launch a “civil unrest immediate relief program.”
That money included two $17.5 million grants to the cities of Minneapolis and St Paul. Of that, $5 million was intended for Minneapolis to acquire and hold property, either directly or through another entity, in the Lake Street business corridor.
Another $5 million was dedicated for similar use in damaged areas of St. Paul. In both cases, the money was meant to help the cities “prevent displacement, retain existing businesses and maintain the character of the community.”
In total, the bill would have provided about $300 million in aid over the 2020-21 biennium.
Among its provisions, it created a “special master panel” to sort out compensation claims for damages. It formed a nine-member Metropolitan Area Redevelopment Corporation board to oversee planning and award grants. The same redevelopment corporation also was given authority to levy a special 0.125% sales tax on the seven-county metro area.
The PROMISE Act bill had rent-control provisions for affected areas and required the state Commerce Department to help business owners handle property, liability and casualty insurance claims.
It also had “limited eminent domain” provisions and would have provided a tax break on construction materials to business owners attempting to rebuild.
A successful amendment from Rep. Aisha Gomez, DFL-Minneapolis, established a Civil Unrest Investigatory Commission. It would have functioned like a local version of the national Kerner Commission, which investigated what were then called the nation’s “race riots” of 1968.
That Gomez commission would have held public hearings, investigated leads and issued a public report on the “actions, choices, orders and responses by all local governments, police and military authorities and elected officials who were crucial to the government’s response to the civil unrest.”
“The use of force against peaceful protesters, press, medics, residents on their porch and community protecting themselves in the absence of a response from the government are very much in the scope of the commission,” Gomez said on Twitter following the floor debate.
Like all special session bills that failed to reach the governor’s desk, any attempt to pass the Noor bill in a future special session would have to begin from scratch.
It is widely expected that Gov. Tim Walz will trigger another automatic special session when he extends his peacetime emergency authority by another month in mid-July.
Noor on Friday called his bill a “comprehensive economic recovery plan.” While neither he nor any of the lawmakers who helped write the bill condone the burning and looting of neighborhoods, Noor said, neither should the despair caused by the civil disorder be ignored.
“This is what I call a labor of love,” Noor said of his bill. “This is what I call community.”
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