House DFL lawmakers dropped a proposal to officially recognize a south Minneapolis lake by its Dakota name, Bde Maka Ska, as officials scrambled Wednesday to wrap up a state budget agreement.
Democrats wanted to use the two-year state spending plan to wade into an ongoing legal battle over what to call the popular body of water. The issue emerged in late April, after the Minnesota Court of Appeals invalidated a state Department of Natural Resources decision to strip the name of former Vice President John C. Calhoun, a defender of slavery and instrumental figure in the Indian Removal Act. According to the court, authority to take such action rests with the Legislature.
Democrats in the House approved language restoring the indigenous name as part of a late April budget vote. But the provision, opposed by the Republican-controlled Senate, was left out of the final text of an environmental budget bill released Wednesday.
“That was an item that the GOP Senate absolutely would not take,” said Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville, an American Indian legislator who had fought for the change.
Proponents of continuing to use the name Lake Calhoun celebrated the news.
“The GOP Senate appears to be one of the last bastions of commonsense,” Tom Austin, leader of the group Save Lake Calhoun, said in an e-mail. “This is a win for the 80% of Minnesotans who are fed-up with advocacy groups trying to rename and rewrite our history.”
The decision on the naming provision came as Gov. Tim Walz, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, worked with legislators to finalize hundreds of pages of legislative language ahead of a special session to vote on the budget. That special session, which was needed after lawmakers failed to finish the work by their May 20 adjournment deadline, could begin as soon as Friday.
The Bde Maka Ska proposal wasn’t the only contentious issue left on the cutting room floor as agreements on policy language trickled out Wednesday. House DFL leaders also dropped proposals to require comprehensive sex education in elementary schools, tighten teacher licensing laws and provide driver’s licenses to undocumented immigrants. Republicans, meanwhile, gave up a proposal to provide tax credits for donations to scholarships for private schools, a change backed by school-choice supporters.
Still policy disagreements
Some of the most divisive policy disagreements between the two chambers remained unresolved late Wednesday afternoon as lawmakers continued to negotiate the details of several key budget bills. Dueling versions of a Health and Human Services plan, for example, include proposals related to abortion, conversion therapy and raising the smoking age to 21.
Many of the proposals that have fallen by the wayside, including the Bde Maka Ska provision, had faced long odds given the partisan split of the two chambers. Many of those fights will be revived when legislators return to session next February
The naming battle could be an exception. The DNR plans to appeal the ruling and seek the state Supreme Court’s opinion.
Becker-Finn said that while there will likely be future battles over renaming other bodies of water or landmarks, the Bde Maka Ska proposal “may be moot by the time we come back next session,” depending on how the Supreme Court rules.
Lawmakers did manage to reach an agreement on another naming debate involving a popular state destination. House Democrats had proposed using a state park on the St. Croix River to honor former Vice President Walter Mondale. Following strong local opposition, a compromise emerged to instead rename a trail connecting two parks the “Walter F. Mondale Scenic Riverway.” That language, included in a House DFL version of the budget, made it into the final agreement.