Human rights agency hopes to set up shop in Worthington
WORTHINGTON -- The Minnesota Department of Human Rights -- created through the Minnesota Human Rights Act -- is celebrating its 50th birthday later this month.
WORTHINGTON - The Minnesota Department of Human Rights - created through the Minnesota Human Rights Act - is celebrating its 50th birthday later this month.
The agency investigates about about 600 claims of discrimination per year, including but not limited to race, religion, national origin, sex, disability, age and sexual orientation. In these charges, disability is the most common basis, and employment is the most common area.
At the start of the 2017 legislative session, Gov. Mark Dayton proposed over $2 million in additional funds to the agency, in part to build regional offices for the MDHR in Worthington, Rochester and Duluth.
The Worthington office - an initiative supported by Mayor Mike Kuhle - would likely have two employees, and have a focus on community education and outreach.
However, the Government Finance bill passed through conference committee Tuesday included a $208,000 cut to the agency’s current $4.18 million budget, and legislation to build new regional offices is nowhere to be found in any of the nearly complete omnibus bills.
The finance committee bill came in at nearly $200 million less than Dayton wanted, substantially reducing the size of government. Committee DFL members say the finance bill cuts run too deep and stressed concern that hundreds of layoffs will result, while the committee co-chairs argue the changes will help deliver relief to taxpayers.
“The legislative session is not over, there are still negotiations between the Governor and the House and Senate, so we’ll see what happens,” said MDHR Deputy Commissioner Rowzat Shipchandler.
Shipchandler was hopeful the regional offices would be funded, as it would help the agency to establish connections to the cities and surrounding towns and personally see what victims go through.
“The regional offices give us a chance to have face-to-face contact with people,” Shipchandler said. “We do have a regional office in St. Cloud, and it’s just allowed us to be much more present in the community.”
Accordingly to Shipchandler, the agency conducts neutral investigations for those who believe they have suffered discrimination - usually people who cannot afford a lawyer.
“We work with people who are often in vulnerable situations, and they can get assistance from us through a settlement,” Shipchandler said.
Another major focus of the agency is education and civic engagement. Shipchandler visited the Worthington area Thursday to speak with area officials and leaders about organizing a community event to highlight inclusion.
Although there isn’t an office in Worthington yet, Shipchandler said anyone can call the agency, as it receives most of their cases over the phone.
“I would encourage people to call us, and tell us if they felt they have been a victim of discrimination - we serve all of Minnesota, regardless of the location of our office,” she said.