There was a moment last week that lived up to Minnesotans' historic reputation for practicality in politics. It was like seeing a shaft of light cut through storm clouds.

Near the end of the dinner the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce hosts annually on the Legislature's opening day, the state's top four lawmakers sat before the crowd of 1,700 and explained why a "sanctuary state" bill to protect unauthorized immigrants wouldn't pass this spring. Such a bill would prohibit Minnesota police from helping federal law officers enforce immigration restrictions.

Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said there wasn't enough time in the short legislative session to craft the bill well. She added, "It is important for us to recognize that law enforcement across the state of Minnesota have an important job to do and we want them to do that job."

Rep. Lisa Demuth, the Republican leader in the House, said, "I support legal immigration, but the thought of making Minnesota a sanctuary state would put more pressure on our schools, our health care, our counties, our housing."

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said the bill lacked enough support to pass. She injected a note of humanity by mentioning the "He Gets Us" ad that ran during the Super Bowl, which depicted people of different circumstances and faiths washing each other's feet.

"I would just remind us that some people's illegal immigrant is other people's children who were brought here by their parents because their parents wanted nothing more than a safe place to have a job and raise their children," Hortman said.

Then, the Republican leader in the Senate, Sen. Mark Johnson of East Grand Forks, noted that many Minnesota businesses are "looking for more employees in a desperate way." He said immigrants can help solve that but the U.S. government controls immigration policy.

"We do need to figure out ways to get more people to grow this state," Johnson said. "However, not working with our federal partners on that is a mistake."

There it was, the shaft of light.

In an exchange that took less than four minutes, one Democrat stood up for law enforcement, another one invoked Jesus and two Republicans said immigration is necessary and good when done well.

The sanctuary bill came up last year but got lost in the tidal wave of other things the Legislature did. I haven't researched the bill enough to form an opinion on it. However, I agree with elements of what each lawmaker said.

There should be meaningful deliberation. Costs and effects on law officers must be considered. And there's a moral dimension to this that should weigh on all of us.

Finally, as any regular reader of this column knows, I believe strongly that Minnesota must combat the scarcity of labor that threatens the state's economic strength. Immigrants were the key to Minnesota's population and workforce growth for much of its history, and they have been again in the past two decades.

How reasonable those Minnesota lawmakers sounded, particularly compared to many in Washington. It is maddening that Congress does not take up immigration reform.

Most of what we hear about immigration from leaders in Washington — and from the presidential campaigns — is out of touch with economic reality and distorted by the chaotic situation on the southern U.S. border.

The border needs to be controlled. At the same time, we should recognize how slowly the U.S. is growing these days.

The country's population grew 1% from the 2020 census to the 2023 update. At that rate, it will grow less than 4% in the 2020s. The slowest decade of growth the U.S. has experienced was the 1940s at 7.3%.

Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have lost population since 2020. Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin are three of six states to grow a half-percent or less in that time. There is no precedent for this.

Couple that deceleration with the retirement of the baby boomers — this year more people turn 65 than ever — and the scarcity of workers becomes much easier to understand.

Gov. Tim Walz mentioned it first thing when he spoke at the Chamber event. "HR folks know there was a time you could put out a notice and get 100 people to apply. It's different now," he said.

Since I write often about Minnesota's growth constraints and solutions, I know I must be cautious against seeing examples of them everywhere. That said, here's another moment last week when the topic came up.

Former IBM chief executive Ginni Rometty, speaking to executives and students at an Economic Club of Minnesota lunch, described "finding a new talent pool" by opening up its hiring in the 2010s to people who didn't have college degrees. I mentioned in my column last Sunday how good it was that Walz recently did the same thing with the state's hiring.

IBM for decades has been at the forefront of workforce trends. It offered health benefits to the same-sex partners of its employees in 1996, for instance.

Even so, Rometty told her Minnesota audience that it took a monumental effort to get the company to stop requiring college degrees for jobs. Some IBM veterans accused her of dumbing down the company. Instead, IBM found that three out of four such workers eventually pursued higher education. By the time she retired in 2020, one out of five hires at IBM had either not been to, or not finished, college.

"The biggest roadblock is your own team," Rometty said. "It takes a lot of cultural change."

We're still at the start of the challenge that labor scarcity presents. Minnesota will have to change faster than the nation as a whole on immigration, hiring practices and finding other solutions to this scarcity.