Winona Daily News, May 23
DFL restores what's best about state
The minimum wage is going up.
Some people will have a harder time owning guns, or have to give them up.
And the state's about to spend $90 million on a new office building for senators.
Sounds like a Scared Straight recruiting brochure for the Minnesota Republican party, right? Time to head for the hills of North Dakota?
Let's review, if it's even possible in a small space, the accomplishments of the 2014 Minnesota Legislature — they're not only big, they're rich with nuance and compromise.
Marijuana will only be available in select forms, will be strictly controlled, and offered only to folks who suffer from chronic conditions. Minimum wage will rise incrementally, with breaks for small employers. The people who can't have guns any more are convicted abusers.
Lawmakers crafted a stricter bullying law, expanded benefits and equality for women workers, and approved a $1.1 billion construction bill that will create all kinds of economic development opportunities across the state, including in Winona with Winona State's University's Education Village. They passed a package of tax cuts for middle-class residents, repealed a trio of onerous business-to-business taxes, streamlined operations across state government — including business permitting — and created a $20 million fund to start developing statewide access to high-speed Internet.
And that's just the big stuff.
Boy, all that is a good way to erase the memory of the state shutting down just three years ago over a bitter debate about how to handle a massive budget deficit.
We, like many in the state, worried about party overreach when the DFL-controlled House and Senate sat down in early 2013 and got to work with a DFL governor. Looks like we shouldn't have. The Legislature has spent the past two years rebuilding the state's policy and image to represent the best of what Minnesotans have always prided themselves on — strong schools, a robust and diverse economy, valuing human equality, a progressive tax system that provides for investments in quality of life. Leadership like that deserves to be rewarded at the polls in November.
As for that expensive office building — well, 201 part-time politicians and a governor can't get it right every time.
Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 27
Minnesota can lead for more workplace fairness
It's too soon to declare that the American women's movement, begun in 1848 and revived in 1970, is gathering strength for a third wave of sweeping change. But if it is, future historians may note that this time, Minnesota was among the states that got it rolling.
That wasn't true during two earlier waves. When women pushed for voting rights and the ability to enter male-dominated fields, Minnesota kept pace but was not in the vanguard of change.
But this month's enactment of the Women's Economic Security Act (WESA) vaulted this state into the lead in efforts to make work fairer and more humane for women — and along the way, for men, too. So said officials at the Washington, D.C.-based Center for American Progress, who came to Minnesota last week to praise what the 2014 Legislature accomplished and to call for more in 2015. With better protection from workplace discrimination for pregnant women, nursing mothers and parents of both genders, "You're ahead of the curve," said Lori Lodes, the Center for American Progress senior vice president.
Yet a gathering in Duluth last week for more than 100 Minnesotans who helped pushed WESA into law was not a victory party. Advocates for gender fairness in the workplace left the 2014 legislative session acutely aware of aims not achieved. They came to plot strategy for their own next wave.
A big part of that strategy will be to enlist more of Minnesota's working people — men and women — to lend their voices and votes to the cause, said Dan McGrath, executive director of TakeAction Minnesota, a cosponsor of the Duluth meeting.
"We want to build a grass-roots counterweight" to the employers' lobbying organizations that were effective in persuading legislators to drop a number of provisions from WESA before it passed. Among the worthy aims they'll seek:
. Paid sick leave for more workers. An estimated 44 percent of Minnesota's private-sector employees have no paid sick leave available. Those are typically low-income workers — and in Minnesota, low-income workers are disproportionately female.
Advocates favor a state requirement that one hour of paid sick leave be accrued for every 30 hours an employee works. That's extreme — and we'd favor some exclusions for smaller employers — but with an estimated two-thirds of working women serving as the primary breadwinner for their households, paid sick leave would be an asset to household stability, not to mention public health.
. More available, affordable child care. As of March, 7,741 families — more than 5,000 of them in Hennepin County alone — were on waiting lists for the state's income-adjusted child care subsidies for families of modest means via the Basic Sliding Fee program. Young children from those families are being denied access to the higher-quality child care that is beyond the financial reach of working-poor families without the program's $811 average monthly subsidy.
Considerable state policy focus in recent years has been on providing scholarships for quality preschool for needy families. That emphasis is well justified. But for children too young for preschool, or who live in places where quality preschools are in short supply, Basic Sliding Fee still plays a crucial role. The 2015 Legislature should provide sufficient funding to reach all income-eligible families.
. Pay equity accountability for state contractors. For 30 years, state and local governments have rated their own jobs according to value, then adjusted pay to eliminate gender-based inequities among positions of comparable worth. As a result, a gender gap in pay has disappeared in Minnesota's public sector.
Advocates sought this year to ask as much of the largest private-sector contractors the state hires, and ran into a wall of business resistance. A more modest self-report of compliance with a 50-year-old federal requirement of equal pay for equal work was enacted instead. That reporting requirement doesn't seem likely to close a private-sector pay gap estimated at 80 cents for women for every $1 paid to men. Expecting the same compensation fairness of its major contractors as the state demands of itself does not seem unreasonable.
. A ban on discrimination against caregivers. WESA bans discrimination against a worker or a job candidate because he or she is a parent of minor children. That good addition to the state's Human Rights Act deserves another. Discrimination in hiring, promotion or pay because a worker provides care for an adult relative should also be banned.
That's a partial list for consideration by the 2015 Legislature. For the women's movement to truly start moving again, action will be needed in a lot more places than the State Capitol. Average people will need to be engaged in making change, as their parents' and grandparents' generations were before them. McGrath of TakeAction said last week that by his measure, the strongest anti-poverty engine in Minnesota today is the activism of this state's women. Here's hoping he's right.
The Free Press of Mankato, May 27
Action needed at Security Hospital
Problems at the Minnesota Security Hospital in St. Peter seem unrelenting.
In 2011 the Human Services Commissioner gave the hospital two years to reduce the unnecessary use of patient restraints.
In 2013 investigators found two new cases of patient maltreatment, including one in which staff failed to intervene when a patient banged his head against a concrete wall for more than three hours. The hospital was fined and had its license placed on "conditional status" — a status that remains in place.
Last week, investigators determined that a security guard bears some responsibility for the January killing of a patient, allegedly by another patient.
Those incidents don't cover scandals involving the quality of care given by psychiatrists, whether patients are kept in high security programs too long and myriad other managerial and staff problems in recent years.
To be fair, operating Minnesota's largest psychiatric facility, with 400 of the state's most dangerous patients, is a daunting task.
Human Services Commissioner Lucinda Jesson and lawmakers have repeatedly voiced serious concerns about the hospital.
Some of the safety problems, for both patients and staff, are the result of an outdated building with poor sight lines. Those problems will have a remedy now that the Legislature and governor approved more than $56 million in funding for security hospital renovation and construction.
While the work is very much needed, no one should believe the bulk of the problems at the hospital are the result of building design.
State officials, lawmakers, hospital management and union leadership must redouble efforts to improve the philosophical and clinical approaches used at the hospital, improve training for staff and identify and correct other problems with the aim of protecting and serving staff and patients.
The patients at the hospital are often dangerous and unpredictable. But we all have to remember that they are mentally ill patients who deserve the best care and protections the state can provide them.
That is not what they have received in recent years.