Minnesota lawmakers hoping to remove slavery as a possible punishment under state law

Voters would need to ratify a change to the state constitution as other states have, including Tennessee and Alabama last year
State lawmakers heard testimony about whether removing slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment options under the state constitution would have any impact on how prisons work and try to rehabilitate prisoners. The measure is moving through House committees and could go before Minnesota voters if passed.
State lawmakers heard testimony about whether removing slavery and involuntary servitude as punishment options under the state constitution would have any impact on how prisons work and try to rehabilitate prisoners. The measure is moving through House committees and could go before Minnesota voters if passed. Photo credit (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Minnesota lawmakers are working to eliminate slavery from the state constitution as a possible punishment for crime–a change that would require voter approval.

States like Alabama and Tennessee have only recently made a similar change, according to Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL - St. Paul), who authored House Bill 93.

“Our state should prohibit slavery and involuntary servitude–full stop,” Pinto said at Tuesday’s hearing before the House Public Safety, Finance, and Policy Committee in St. Paul.

Others on the panel wondered if the change would have any impact on how prisons put inmates to work. Testimony came from former inmate Antonio Williams, who said he endured work in extreme weather conditions for as little as 25 or 50 cents an hour while he was incarcerated.

“What I was really looking for, though, was a chance to visit and call my loved ones, go to the gym and work out, try to relieve some stress, and try to stay healthy under those conditions,” said Williams. “Those are the things that would get taken away if I refused to work.”

Department of Corrections Commissioner Paul Schnell told the committee his agency is always looking at ways to improve how and what it does.

“Ultimately, we dont believe this change–and we stand in full support of this change–would have any implications in terms of our programming and the changes we want to make on that front as well,” Schnell said Tuesday.

The measure passed the committee and will now move on the House Judiciary, Finance, and Civil Law committee.

Featured Image Photo Credit: (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)