Minnesota Star Tribune. April 4, 2021.
Editorial: Emergency powers strengthened Minnesota
Resolve differences with good-faith negotiations, not Wisconsin-style court fights.
Last week the Wisconsin Supreme Court struck down a mask mandate imposed by Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, following a challenge to his authority by a major Republican donor. It is another in a punishing series of court losses for Evers and the COVID-battered citizens of his state that included a rejection of his stay-at-home order and his attempts to limit capacity in gathering spaces.
In Minnesota, by contrast, court challenges to Gov. Tim Walz’s authority to wield emergency powers during the pandemic have all failed. Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison told a Star Tribune reporter for a recent article that there are “legislative guardrails” but also “court guardrails, and we’ve won every single case because we stayed close to the law and common sense.” More than a dozen judges, appointed by both Democratic and Republican governors, have upheld Walz’s emergency authority.
Keeping that power in place does far more than maintain capacity limits, or require masks, to the benefit of all Minnesotans. Joe Kelly, director of the state division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, says the emergency declaration gives him a broad array of tools and resources that otherwise would be in jeopardy.
When a COVID outbreak erupted in a Chaska school, Kelly said, “we were able to set up a pop-up testing site immediately” to trace the spread. Early in March, the Minnesota Vikings teamed up with the state to convert their practice facility into a temporary vaccination clinic that also tapped the National Guard. Such speedy action would not have been possible under what can be lengthy procedures that normally require “requests for proposal,” competitive bids and established ways of reassigning public employees. “If we need a testing site, we need it now,” Kelly said, “not a few months from now.”
Kelly cites the build-out of the state’s massive COVID testing program as a case in point. “The state doesn’t normally have a state public infectious disease testing program,” he said. “During this pandemic, we have built a testing system that I think is second to none, which allows the state to do 50,000 to 70,000 tests a day if necessary. That took hundreds of people and thousands of hours.” The emergency declaration allowed the quick reassignment of state employees to where they were most needed and the hiring of necessary contractors. “We do seasonal, childhood vaccines as a matter of course,” he said. “But immunizing 80 percent of the population with two shots in a matter of months? That requires coordination, speed and an agile system.”
Kelly cautioned that there are good reasons to follow established procedures when there is not a massive public health emergency, and he is not suggesting that current practices become permanent. But the pandemic, he said, has presented challenges unlike any this state has seen in modern times.
Then there is the federal aid tied to states that have declared an emergency (which is nearly all of them). Teddy Tschann, Walz’s press secretary, said the state has received $367 million to date in hunger assistance that requires a state emergency to be in effect. It is due to receive $32 million for April alone. Wisconsin may have lost $50 million per month in food assistance and other aid tied to the emergency.
And the pandemic is not over. Infection rates are back on the rise, due largely to variants, and hospitalizations continue. “We think we are at the beginning of the end,” Kelly said, “but we honestly don’t know for sure.”
Minnesota Republicans should undertake negotiations with Walz to unwind the emergency declarations at the right time, once the worst danger has passed. But it should be done sensibly, cautiously. Walz has said he is willing to turn control of dozens of executive orders over to the Legislature. House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, who has opposed Walz’s use of emergency powers, said in an e-mail that he has been meeting regularly with the governor’s office on developing tools for responding to the pandemic.
That’s a good start. Sensible, good-faith negotiations are far preferable to battling it out in court.
Mankato Free Press. April 5, 2021.
Editorial: State needs immigrants to succeed.
A new report from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce confirms what our state demographers have been telling us for a long time: Minnesota’s economy needs the immigrant population to succeed.
Here are some of the key findings of the Chamber’s report as outlined in its executive summary:
• Absent immigrants’ arrival, our overall population would have declined beginning in 2001, with Minnesota residents moving to other states.
• Immigrants link Minnesota to the world economy and make valuable and meaningful contributions to our state as employees, entrepreneurs, consumers and taxpayers.
• Immigrant entrepreneurship in Minnesota lags behind the rest of the nation. In a “homegrown” economy, entrepreneurship is a key source of new businesses. Building systems that support immigrant entrepreneurs is important to our economic success.
• Many of Minnesota’s most important industries have a strong immigrant presence. Without immigrant workers, key industries such as agriculture, health care and food manufacturing could not be as successful in the state.
And that brief summary just scrapes the surface of why being home to a healthy immigrant population affects all Minnesotans — wherever they live in the state and whatever their citizen status. As the COVID-19 pandemic taught us, if one sector of the economy suffers, it has a domino effect. We saw that when some manufacturers had to temporarily shut down at the start of the pandemic and livestock producers ended up having to euthanize animals when they couldn’t be brought to the food-processing plants.
In southern Minnesota many of those food plant employees are immigrant and refugee workers. Without them, many of the groceries that people stocked up on wouldn’t have filled supermarket freezers and shelves during the pandemic. And numerous health care workers are immigrants, acting as front-line workers during this crisis. The immigrant population often works at jobs that employers are desperate to fill; the workers are not taking jobs from others as some anti-immigrant voices claim.
And immigrants spend their money here. Their spending power in Minnesota is over $12.4 billion annually, while households paid $4.5 billion in state taxes in 2019. Those taxes, of course, support Minnesota by funding such areas as education, criminal justice, social services and transportation. Over time, immigrants are upwardly mobile on multiple fronts including household income, employment and homeownership. The Chamber report cites that while there are costs for supporting foreign-born populations when they first arrive, these costs diminish as subsequent generations assimilate and gain economic success.
It’s up to all Minnesotans to recognize that our state’s economic stability and success depend on supporting and encouraging the growth of our immigrant populations. And U.S. and state governments as well as nonprofits need to continue to direct resources to agencies that can help ensure their success.
Albert Lea Tribune. April 6, 2021.
Editorial: Thanks to volunteers throughout the area
With the changes over the last year in the Albert Lea area because of the COVID-19 pandemic, one sector that has been widely impacted is that of nonprofits.
Nonprofits rely on volunteers for much of their success, and during the pandemic, many volunteer opportunities were limited out of safety to reduce the spread of the virus.
Now, however, as more and more organizations and businesses are reopening fully again, it is critical to again provide the volunteer base that these organizations once had to help them serve the people in the community and to potentially raise money to help further their missions.
To those of you who are already sharing of your time or talents with nothing expected in return, we thank you.
Thank you for your dedication — not only to the organization you serve with, but also to the community.
To those of you who would like to get more involved, now is your chance to do so. Simply call up an organization you are passionate about and ask where you can help.
Many have training opportunities available on a regular basis and are looking for help on whatever level you might be able to provide.
You’ll find that volunteering will not only give you an opportunity to meet new people and learn new skills, but it will also help you combat depression and stay healthier physically, research shows.
It will be a benefit all around.