Minneapolis Star Tribune. June 5, 2021.

Editorial: Clock is ticking on 2021 Minnesota Legislature

Hurdles remain, but divides must be overcome to avoid a damaging shutdown.

Legislative leaders appear cautiously optimistic that they can resolve their differences and produce a two-year budget for Minnesota before the fiscal deadline of June 30. Underneath that optimism lurks a bit of healthy fear.

Should they fail, they know the consequences could be dire. Minnesota has been through government shutdowns before, but softened by courts that were willing to ensure uninterrupted funding of “essential” services in the interim. This time that may not be an option. In a 2017 Minnesota Supreme Court opinion, Chief Justice Lori Gildea wrote that “Section 1 of the Minnesota Constitution does not permit judicially ordered funding for the Legislative branch in the absence of an appropriation.”

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka told an editorial writer that “there is a real urgency here. There would be a lot of things not funded this time. But we’re going to beat the June 30 deadline. We have to.”

Oddly enough for a budget year, the disputes between the DFL House and GOP Senate have little to do with money or its lack. Leaders agreed on a broad framework at the end of the regular session that featured big wins for the two sides: $1 billion of tax relief and increased funding for E-12 education, including summer school.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman told an editorial writer that “the dam broke when it became clear that we could do both. … Those were the two largest puzzle pieces. Everything else fits around that.” That level of compromise was achievable by a gusher of federal funds related to the pandemic — about $18 billion, roughly equal to a third of the state’s general operating budget.

That leaves policy differences, and there are some serious ones. On education, Gazelka has championed private school vouchers, saying 30 states use them in some form. Hortman and Democrats have resisted, contending that the vast majority of schoolchildren in Minnesota attend public schools, which already suffer from a chronic shortage of funds.

Senate Republicans refuse to adopt what they persist in labeling a “California standard” for clean car emissions, even though at least 14 states have the same standard, some for years. The emissions change would, among other things, make more electric vehicles available for sale in Minnesota.

Republicans also want Walz to relinquish his emergency powers. Some 45 states remain under a pandemic emergency, in part because federal aid is tied to it. “It’s not just Minnesota,” Gazelka said. “This is a nationwide struggle between governors and legislatures across the country. There is bipartisan frustration with executive branches hanging on to power.”

One of the biggest sticking points is police reform. “I think we’re starting to reach common ground on some items,” Hortman said. With more than 100 provisions in the House bill, “we have proposals on community violence prevention, police conduct, pretextual stops, others that deal with fines and sentencing. We would say 80 of those are noncontroversial.” Gazelka said he is not opposed to further reforms, but draws the line at anything perceived as “anti-police.”

We do not underestimate the difficulty in bridging such ideological divides. The issues are serious, and provoke strong feelings on both sides. Yet compromise must be found, and well before June 30. A $52 billion budget hangs in the balance and layoff notices have already gone out to 38,000 government workers, with all the anxiety that produces.

“I do not see a reason to talk about worst-case scenarios yet,” Hortman said. “It shouldn’t even come close to that. We have 10 committees working on budget bills and every one of them should be aiming at June 14 — not June 30.”

Minnesota is the only remaining state where one party controls the House and another the Senate. We should all hope that this experiment in divided government succeeds.

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Albert Lea Tribune. June 4, 2021.

Editorial: Don’t abuse donation boxes, donation centers

Many people have expressed dismay this week to see photographs of couches, furniture, a TV and other bags of items left outside the Disabled American Veterans donation boxes near Walmart.

The boxes are intended to collect small items such as clothes and shoes and go to support veterans in Minnesota.

The DAV works with Savers stores in Minnesota to provide them with usable personal clothing and small houseware items, and then in turn, the DAV is given a check for the pounds of goods supplied.

The funds raised are used to help veterans and families in Freeborn County. They are also used to pay rent on storage bins where all of the organization’s medical equipment is stored and to buy replacement batteries and parts for powered wheelchairs. In addition, the DAV buys and supplies wheelchairs, walkers, canes, crutches and knee scooters.

The organization has clearly labeled on the outside of each donation box about how to use them and what the acceptable donations are in them. Just as clearly, it also states that people should not leave donations outside the containers.

Despite the precise directions, however, some still feel the need to leave behind more than what will fit in the boxes.

Unfortunately this is not the first time we have seen such disrespect at these boxes. The Salvation Army also used to encounter this same problem when it had several donation boxes around town, and it occasionally also has people who illegally dump items outside it’s thrift store.

In fact, this week, police logs show someone illegally dumped items two times outside the Salvation Army thrift store, too.

People who dump these items might be happy to get them out of their possession, but what they may or may not realize is that any items left behind are exposed to the weather and animals and are essentially left ruined. These items do not benefit these organizations — in fact, they hurt them.

The DAV and the Salvation Army instead have to take money that could be used to help people in our own communities and instead use some of that money to dispose of the now trashed items.

We ask people to think twice before doing this in the future.

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Mankato Free Press. June 3, 2021.

Editorial: Transparency Time to allow cameras in court

The livestreaming of the Derek Chauvin murder trial was unprecedented in the history of Minnesota court access, but it so far has not resulted in any serious consideration to making all courts open to livestreaming or even photography.

Hennepin County District Judge Peter A. Cahill took a remarkable step in mostly defying Minnesota court rules that ban cameras from capturing trial action. He did so on the basis that livestreaming was the only way to provide the constitutional right to a public trial. Cahill argued that the pandemic effectively barred citizens from attending the trial in person, which is allowed under Minnesota law. Cahill said he was allowed to change any rule that creates a “manifest injustice,” and in this case he believed such an injustice would occur were the trial not to be televised.

The Chauvin case, Cahill argued, had widespread public interest across the world. Chauvin’s defense attorneys agreed with the decision on livestreaming, but the state attorney general’s office objected to it, saying televising the trial might scare away witnesses. Their motion was also denied by Cahill.

Cahill also will allow livestreaming of the upcoming Chauvin sentencing hearing and the trial of the three other officers involved in the Floyd case.

But Minnesota otherwise remains a backward state when it comes to public access to its court proceedings. Dozens of other states allow gavel to gavel coverage of their trials by broadcast, print and online media. Minnesota is not only backward, it’s so far behind other states in public access, it’s embarrassing.

And in a state where access to government records and meetings has typically been robust, there has somehow been special treatment for lawyers and judges who can shield their mistakes from widespread public scrutiny.

Almost a decade ago, Minnesota media groups pushed for allowing cameras in courtrooms. The Minnesota Supreme Court convened a special commission of lawyers, journalists, victim advocates and educators to study the issue. A pilot program was approved to allow cameras and videotaping only at the end of trials during sentencing hearings. Even then, there are restrictions on who and what can be filmed.

While the pilot program showed no real negative consequences for courts, the rule allowing cameras was made permanent. That’s a small and mostly insignificant step for what should be allowed.

Public trials should be public. They should be easily accessible to the public via broadcasting, livestreaming or other means as they are in many other states, including Minnesota’s neighbors.

The Chauvin trial demonstrated that rights to a fair trial can be protected at the same time the press and the public are granted unfettered access to view all the court proceedings.

We urge the Minnesota legal community and legislators to change state rules on cameras in the courts. Livestreaming, broadcasting and still photography should be permitted in all trials in Minnesota.

END