St. Cloud Times, June 12

Special session must yield policing reforms

To no Minnesotan’s surprise, the 2020 Legislature is now in a special session.

To the surprise of everyone, though, the hottest topic at the Capitol is not bonding or budgets. It’s police reform.

An issue barely on special-session radar when the regular session adjourned May 20 is now a must-do mandate after the horrific death May 24 of George Floyd while in custody of four now-former Minneapolis police officers.

And, yes, the Legislature and Gov. Tim Walz must use this special session to start making substantial reforms to police policies and law-enforcement practices so communities can begin to heal, rebuild trust, and, most importantly, ensure more lives aren’t needlessly lost.

Know, though, one special session cannot fix a system the evolved over decades

The goals for this special session should be simple.

— For policing reforms, work on two fronts. First, adopt specific measures already thoroughly vetted that directly address factors that led to Floyd’s death. Second, set a legislative framework for continuing reforms next session that focus on demilitarizing police while also refining their focus to law enforcement duties. More on this in a moment.

— For the much-discussed bonding bill, DFLers want to spend too much while Republicans are too tight-fisted. Legislators must find middle ground by focusing the bill on mission-critical projects that grow jobs — including some help for businesses devastated in the Minneapolis riots. In short: Drop the wants, focus on the needs.

— For COVID-19 issues, do what’s necessary to get the state positioned for this long-term battle without getting hung up on politics and power.

Of course, politics and power too often are the fuel elected officials use to stop something their party opposes or advance a cause their party embraces.

That must not happen, especially regarding police reforms.

Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday offered a solid starting point in proposing eight specific reforms, five of which are recommended by the Legislature’s own working group on police-involved deadly force encounters.

Among those are:

— Reforming the statute that defines when law enforcement is justified in using deadly force to prioritize the sanctity of life.

— Creating a new state-level office to administer grants to community-based violence-intervenors and problem solvers to intercept violence and reduce interactions with police. Fund co-responders, pairing officers with a social worker when responding to crisis calls and welfare checks.

— Creating a grant program to train professional community healers trained to respond with support service to oppression-induced and present-day trauma.

— Provide the Minnesota Attorney General with independent jurisdiction for the prosecution of police-involved deaths and creating an independent investigation unit within Bureau of Criminal Apprehension for police-involved cases. That takes such cases out of the hands of colleagues and acquaintances, potentially improving community trust in the outcomes of those cases.

— And expanding police training in de-escalation and mental health crisis intervention.

As this board noted just last week, the working group’s ideas are based on a credible, transparent process that included public input and discussions with law enforcement statewide.

Legislators have had since January to examine these recommendations. Given Floyd’s death and its aftermath, adopting these specific measures soon will show Minnesotans the Legislature is committed to the reforms countless residents are demanding.

To claim more discussion is needed than this special session, or, worse, to link their passage to unrelated issues like bonding projects or COVID-19, would amount to legislators dodging accountability.

Again, though, these vetted measures are just a starting point. Legislators and the governor also must set the stage for crafting more reforms that stop America’s momentum to militarize the police.

Yes, specially trained tactical units and appropriate equipment for them are needed on every police force. But not every officer should be trained to react as an elite soldier — because the communities they serve are not the enemy. Where officers act as if their community members are the enemy, this editorial board believes officers are ultimately in more danger, not less. And officer safety is extremely important — but no more and no less important than the safety of people who are innocent under the law until proven guilty in court.

To be clear, one special session cannot undo decades of such a mindset. But some actions must be taken that show reform is happening. We can’t be at war on our own streets.


The Free Press of Mankato, June 16

COVID-19: Pandemic brought some unexpected benefits

Why it matters: Home quarantines brought stresses and challenges, but they also created a closer relationship between dads and kids.

It’s been difficult to find many bright spots as the country has been moving through various stages of the coronavirus pandemic.

But one of them is that more dads are connecting with their kids like never before.

As many parents work from home, it’s brought some clear challenges. Not only are they doing their regular job duties, but taking on roles of child care provider and teacher as their kids stayed home and did remote school work.

But it’s also brought benefits. With kids and parents more often staying close to home, time slowed down. No running to myriad activities, fewer shopping and entertainment trips.

For fathers, in particular, the stay-at-home orders created new bonding opportunities with their kids. Rather than coming home from work at the end of the day, perhaps tired and stressed, and finding their wife tired and stressed from her day at work, dads spent days sharing their children’s lives.

The Harvard Graduate School of Education studied the effects of family relationships during the quarantine and found that dads felt more connected and closer to their kids.

Senior lecturer and faculty director Richard Weissbourd said almost 70% of dads reported they were feeling closer to their kids because of the new dynamics of being at home.

The report, which will be published soon, found that a majority of dads also said their kids were sharing more about their feelings and that the dads were sharing more of their feelings with their kids.

Let us hope that as life begins to return to a more normal routine that the lessons learned about the importance of a father’s relationship with his kids remains.

___ Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 16

Lawmakers shouldn’t leave St. Paul without meaningful results

Deliberations need not drag on, but there are a variety of issues to tackle.

Minnesota is at the midpoint of what may be a one-week legislative special session if the Republican-controlled Senate has its way. It is time to consider whether enough work can be done in the remaining days to be considered successful, or to acknowledge that 201 adults with competing views and equal standing may need more time to accomplish anything meaningful.

This special session, unlike most, started with Gov. Tim Walz calling lawmakers back to St. Paul without the usual carefully negotiated set of agenda points and an agreed-upon end date. By Minnesota law, only the governor can declare a special session, but only the Legislature can end it. In this case, one half of that equation, the Senate, filled in the missing date, declaring that all work would be done within a week.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, in talking with an editorial writer, said that much of the work before them had been heard in regular session, such as bonding, but failed to make it over the finish line. Police reform had resurfaced after George Floyd’s death in police custody, but Gazelka said Senate Republicans had adopted some proposals from the House People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) Caucus, such as a ban on chokeholds and neck restraints, along with additional training and a requirement that use-of-force reports be filed to the state.

Walz, on the other hand, saw the aftermath of Floyd’s death as a time to think bigger on police reform, to address long-festering inequities not just in criminal justice, but also in education, the economy and other aspects of society.

One vision leaves too little time to meet the demands of the moment. Underrepresented communities must be given a chance to be truly heard, to be part of forming the solution. The other vision is so vast that it must be given dimension and deadlines if it is to have any chance of being realized. Walz acknowledged as much on Wednesday, saying that “a deadline is not a bad thing.”

There is obvious common ground here, and much of it has taken shape just recently. Both sides now are on record in favor of greater police accountability and some specifics. Though a gulf separates them on the amounts, both sides want a bonding bill. That is needed now more than ever given a pandemic-induced recession. It is too important an issue to get hung up on Walz’s emergency powers, which governors in nearly every state are still using to deal with COVID-19.

We urge Walz, Gazelka, House Speaker Melissa Hortman, the POCI Caucus and others to work together on legislation that takes a little from both, that is both pragmatic and innovative, attuned to what can be done soon, but goes beyond just the expected.

That will take longer than a week, but it shouldn’t be open-ended. Consensus takes a little time and a little willingness. If the Senate passes bills but leaves no time to work out differences with the House, nothing meaningful will have been accomplished.

There is a chance in the special session to do something worthy on several important fronts, to respond in a meaningful way to events that have thrust this state onto the world stage for the worst possible reasons.

That is worth a little extra time.