Politics and Government

DFL says Equal Rights Amendment remains a priority, has a murky path forward as opposition organizes

Two people speak at a podium in front of a crowd
ERA Minnesota president Curtis Johnson (second from left) and vice president Kate Quinlan-Laird (left) welcome rally-goers at the State Capitol on Feb. 12.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

Minnesota Democrats on Thursday said they remain optimistic that an Equal Rights Amendment can pass this year and tee up the question for voters in the 2026 general election.

That’s despite a dwindling clock on the remainder of the legislative session and the arrest of a DFL senator, which has spurred a standstill in the Senate.

Last year, the Senate approved the ballot measure that seeks to guarantee equal rights no matter someone’s race, color, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, age, disability, ancestry or national origin. But the House didn’t take it up for a vote.

House Democrats have since put forward an updated version of the proposal that would more explicitly ensure legal protections for reproductive health care — including abortion — and gender-affirming care.

While the bill’s path through the Capitol remains uncertain, anti-abortion group Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life on Thursday announced a $1 million TV and digital ad buy. Group leaders said they would spend even more in an effort to sink the amendment should it reach voters.

A person holds a sign
A demonstrator holds up an ERA Minnesota sign at the State Capitol on Feb. 12.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

“We are planning on taking this well into the summer [and] as long as we need to be fighting this constitutional amendment,” Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life Co-Executive Director Cathy Blaeser told reporters. “We will be running [ads] as long as we need to be fighting this constitutional amendment.”

The proposal’s author, Rep. Kaohly Hersaid that the early opposition shows the campaign for the constitutional amendment will be a pricy one.

A left-leaning group, Minnesotans For Equal Rights, filed paperwork in early April to launch a campaign committee to raise money and begin organizing on behalf of a ballot measure. The group’s leaders are some of the same as those promoting the bill to place the question on statewide ballots.

Her, DFL-St. Paul, acknowledged that not having a one-vote majority in the Senate could stall out the bill for the year.

“That uncertainty is always a challenge,” Her said. “But we do know that there could be situations which could make it more challenging if we don't get it done this year. So I remain extremely optimistic and hopeful that it will get done.”

Sen. Nicole Mitchell, DFL-Woodbury, was arrested Monday in Detroit Lakes and faces a burglary charge. She has not attended legislative proceedings in the days that followed and it’s not clear when she’ll return. In a statement issued Thursday, she said she does not intend to resign.

Blaeser said the uncertainty around political control at the Capitol wouldn’t impact MCCL’s opposition campaign.

“Regardless of the numbers in the Legislature and regardless of how those votes split, there is a lot of consternation across the state,” said Blaeser. “I know that is increasing the consternation here in the Legislature on passing such extreme language.”

March for Life
Participants gather and hold signs during an event called the 'March for Life' outside the Capitol building in St. Paul on Jan. 24.
Kerem Yücel | MPR News

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said her members and advocates are still meeting. 

“There’s a whole coalition of groups working on the language,” Hortman said. “In order to pass a constitutional amendment like that you have to have a whole coalition of supporters, then they have to be united around what the language says.”

Hortman said the House is not interested in taking up the Equal Rights Amendment language passed out of the Senate last year, an option floated as a contingency should Mitchell step down or continue to be absent from the Senate floor. Hortman and Her said the bill House lawmakers were working on takes a better approach.

“I think that the House language is more inclusive, more comprehensive, would hold up in court challenges better, and that it would guarantee protections,” Her said. “Then [it] would also give us the time to have a good campaign to ensure that Minnesotans know what they’re voting for.”