GOP attempts to prohibit DFL Sen. Nicole Mitchell from voting after felony charge

Sen. Nicole Mitchell, DFL-Woodbury, brings HF 3454, the Omnibus Veterans policy provisions bill to the Senate floor on April 18, 2024. Photo by Senate Media Services.

Senate Republicans on Monday launched two unsuccessful attempts to disqualify Sen. Nicole Mitchell, DFL-Woodbury, from voting on bills during the remaining three weeks of the legislative session, one week after the first-term senator was charged with first-degree burglary.

Mitchell was arrested in Detroit Lakes on April 22 after allegedly breaking into her stepmother’s home to take several items belonging to her late father, including his ashes. 

Senate Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, on Sunday stripped Mitchell of her committee assignments and said she will no longer participate in caucus meetings the rest of session. Republicans last week filed a complaint against her, which the Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct will take up on May 7. 

Mitchell appeared at the Capitol and cast votes on Monday — her first time back at the Legislature since her arrest.

Capitol observers have been eagerly awaiting Mitchell’s return to see if she will vote on bills the remainder of the session. Democratic-Farmer-Labor legislators are looking to pass influential legislation implementing new policy affecting everything from workers rights to health care, as well as some new spending and an infrastructure package — most of which will require Mitchell’s vote in the 34-33 DFL-controlled Senate. 

Reporters approached Mitchell on the Senate floor on Monday, but she declined to comment on her arrest and expulsion from caucus meetings.

Republicans tried to prohibit Mitchell from voting, but Mitchell cast the deciding vote in her own favor to allow herself to keep voting.

Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, offered a motion to prohibit any senator who has been charged with a crime of violence from voting on all matters until the Senate Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct completes its investigation and submits a report.

“If we were to pass legislation with the full participation of a member charged like this and only with that member’s support … (it) would put all of our work under a cloud,” Nelson said on the floor. “We should uphold the integrity of the body and ensure that we are not passing critical legislation with the deciding vote being under such scrutiny.”

Senators debated the motion for about an hour, with DFL senators coming to Mitchell’s defense, arguing that she needs to continue to vote so she can represent her 80,000 constituents. 

Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said the Senate doesn’t have the authority to “disenfranchise” voters and prohibit Mitchell from voting, and he criticized Nelson’s motion to strip Mitchell’s voting capabilities.

“The attempt to do so is an attack on all the voters in the Senate district that elected the senator and sent that person here to vote on their behalf,” Latz said.

Senate President Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, ruled Nelson’s motion out of order. 

Republicans again attempted to submit a motion restricting Mitchell’s ability to vote, this time offering a motion to prohibit the secretary of the Senate from registering and recording the vote of a member who has been charged with a crime of violence until the ethics subcommittee completes its investigation.

Sen. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said by allowing Mitchell to vote, Democrats appeared to be protecting Mitchell.

“If we continue to see — what appears to be — the protection of this behavior at the expense of the integrity and the reputation of the Minnesota Senate, we’re going to continue to see this dysfunction,” Drazkowski said.

Champion also ruled his motion out of order.

Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, closed the floor session by reading out a symbolic letter of protest, which was signed by all 33 Republican senators, stating Mitchell is “clearly unfit for office.”

After the floor vote, Murphy told reporters that Mitchell’s constituents need representation in the Senate, so she needs to continue voting on bills.

“The people of Woodbury have a vote in this chamber on the laws that are being considered and passed. Her vote here is important,” Murphy said.

Law enforcement last week found Mitchell in her stepmother’s basement, dressed in black clothes and a black hat, with a flashlight with a black sock covering it next to her. Mitchell told law enforcement that her stepmother stopped talking to her and her family members, according to the criminal complaint. 

After her release from jail, Mitchell released a statement saying she was conducting a welfare check on a family member who had Alzheimer’s and paranoia. Mitchell, through her attorney, said she’s “confident that a much different picture will emerge when all of the facts are known.” She said she doesn’t intend to resign.

The post GOP attempts to prohibit DFL Sen. Nicole Mitchell from voting after felony charge appeared first on Minnesota Reformer.