First-term state Rep. Aisha Gomez (DFL-62B) said taxes and driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants were two issues that took a lot of her time during the 2019 legislative session, which ended May 20.
In 2020, the Central neighborhood resident hopes to see progress on recreational marijuana legalization and investments in housing infrastructure, among other issues.
Gomez, who represents eight Minneapolis neighborhoods, including Tangletown, Kingfield and Lyndale, said she thought the DFL-controlled House passed quality bills this past session, though many did not survive in the GOP-controlled Senate. Still, she said she was pleased both chambers approved bills to impose fees on opioid manufactures, increase welfare benefits, expand access to the working-family tax credit and extend the health care-provider tax.
“[The provider tax] is health care for a million people who are struggling,” she said. “That would have been just a disaster to have that not pass.”
Gomez, who was a member of four House committees, including the tax committee, was the chief author of 43 bills and a sponsor of over 240. That included one authored by Rep. Frank Hornstein (DFL-61A) to ban cell phone use while driving, which became law Aug. 1.
Gomez reflected on her first session and discussed plans for the 2020 session during an interview with the Southwest Journal. It has been condensed and edited for clarity.
What were the big things you learned this session?
If you want your bills to get heard, to make progress, you have to hustle them and be persistent. It’s not the Speaker of the House’s top priority to get the capital money for the Minneapolis American Indian Center, so I have to constantly remind her what an important asset that is in our community.
What were some of your priorities?
I feel like driver’s licenses for all and my work on taxes were the two things that rose to the top, in terms of what my time was spent on.
On the driver’s license issue, this is not a sweeping, radical policy. This is literally [about] safety and making sure drivers take a test and have insurance and that hardworking members of our community can go to the grocery store and get their kids to school.
I’m trying to be a diligent student of taxes and figure out ways to inject more equity and fairness into our tax code. … People talk about the Minnesota Miracle [a 1971 legislative package that raised taxes to pay for K-12 education]. That was because we decided we were going to make investments in our communities and fulfill our constitutional obligation to educate every child in the state.
If we expect to continue to have the best-educated workforce and the healthiest people, we need to put our money where our mouth is and make investments.
How do you go about working with your GOP colleagues?
I just try to be myself and be honest and find places where there are unlikely collaborators. Certainly the area of criminal justice reform is a place of collaboration. Reforming probation is good for budgets. It’s good for communities. It’s good for everybody.
What did you think of how the Legislature addressed affordable housing?
We’re not putting enough money into it. It’s not adequate to meet the needs of our community.
I don’t feel we made a ton of progress on preserving naturally occurring affordable housing. So much great work happened in the housing committee on tenant’s rights, and a lot of that was blocked.
We need ways to ensure perpetual affordability for people in our communities. I’m interested in models such as tenant co-ops and in building less housing where the primary motivation is about extracting profit.
How can you do that at the Legislature?
We need to make significant investments in co-ops and land trusts for sure. There’s also just this unacceptable racial homeownership gap that we must address. The land trust, in that it kind of keeps individual properties perpetually affordable, is an appealing option. But it’s just so expensive is the bottom line. It’s really hard to make the financing work for deeply affordable housing, especially the larger units that families need.
Unless we have a supplemental budget and there’s a change in the [state budget] forecast, my understanding is there’s not going to be a bunch of direct investment in housing for next year. But I certainly will be pushing for as big a pot of housing-infrastructure bonding as possible.
Do you think any bills like driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants have a chance of passing in 2020?
The reality is that we’re facing just serious Senate obstructionists. I don’t know, in an election year, what that’s going to look like, but my understanding from people who are smarter than me is we’re probably not going to get anything done on guns, immigration or probably abortion.
I’m working a bunch on the legalization of recreational cannabis. That’s something that the House wants to take action on this year. I’ve heard loud and clear from our communities that they want a bill that deals with the criminal-justice elements, that automatically expunges records and that invests in communities of color. I’m doing a lot of work this summer on that and trying to figure out how to imbue those principals into the work happening around cannabis.