A new school year is officially underway for students of all ages. Across our state and here in the northeast metro, Minnesota’s smallest learners are experiencing their first days of an early childhood program or all-day Kindergarten; teenagers are driving themselves to school (to the delight of their moms and dads); and many young adults are returning to campus to earn a degree or certification in their chosen field of study. It is my pleasure to wish each and every student well in the year ahead!
The new school year is a fresh opportunity for Minnesotans of all ages to re-engage one another in a conversation about safety. Mass shootings that occurred at high schools in Florida and Texas just months ago are still fresh on the minds of young people. Young leaders who are organizing with their peers at the grassroots are a welcome and growing force at our State Capitol. It is the responsibility of state lawmakers like me to give them a seat at the table, as is afforded to everyone else, listen to what they say, and take them seriously. My colleagues on the other side of the aisle failed miserably in this regard.
Earlier this year, the then-Senate GOP Majority (the chamber now stands at an equal 33-33 split) refused young Minnesotans’ pleas to hold public hearings about gun violence. My colleagues went so far as to have Capitol Security escort a student out of a public hearing for simply trying to speak his mind. In a nod to young leaders who protested civil rights violations and the Vietnam War generations ago, students staged a sit-in outside the office of the chairman of the committee on public safety until he gave them a moment of his time.
By contrast, I welcomed students to our Capitol and was glad to meet with and speak to them on multiple occasions. The most important voices in this conversation are those of students themselves. When more young people are exercising their civic responsibilities, on any particular issue, that’s a good thing! In response to what we heard from students, DFL Senators like me introduced the Senate’s first and only comprehensive plan to address gun violence.
The then-Senate GOP Majority succeeded in preventing our plan from becoming law, but young Minnesotans will be ready and waiting to engage state lawmakers on this issue when a new governor and Legislature return to Saint Paul in January 2019. The one-time appropriation of $25 million for “facility upgrades” approved by the Legislature this year doesn’t cut it (state lawmakers in neighboring Wisconsin set aside $100 million for the same purpose). Next year’s budget-setting session is an opportunity to go big and take a closer look at how to steer more resources toward mental health support and school counselors who are professionally trained to recognize and address crises before they become tragedies.
As always, I welcome your questions, comments, and ideas on this and any other topic. Get in touch by phone at 651-296-5537 or by email using the contact form available at www.senate.mn/senatorisaacson.
This commentary was originally published in the Shoreview Press.