Editorial Roundup: Minnesota

Minneapolis Star Tribune. January 18, 2023.

Editorial: Repairing state’s juvenile justice system

DFL proposals would help address problems revealed in Star Tribune news series.

In Minnesota, there aren’t enough appropriate places to send juvenile offenders — especially those who experience trauma and mental health problems.

Some accused of crimes are offered spots in diversion programs to help get them back on track, but others don’t get that same opportunity. And oversight and coordination of the programs provided through the state’s counties are woefully lacking.

Those are among many problems revealed in the Star Tribune investigative news report “Juvenile Injustice.” The five-part series documented how the quality of youth rehabilitation programs varies from county to county and how little oversight exists to help determine what works and doesn’t. It illustrated how important it is for the state and counties to provide safe and effective options for young people.

That’s why a group of Minnesota DFL lawmakers is rightly recommending significant legislative changes that would correct some of those flaws. They hope to devote a portion of the state’s $17.6 billion surplus to intervention programs to redirect kids out of criminal activity.

Among the proposals is creating a state Office of Juvenile Restorative Justice that would promote, coordinate and measure community-based approaches to youth crime. That office could help move Minnesota closer to having some of the programs that have proven successful in Colorado, as pointed out in the Star Tribune series.

During the past seven years, more than 1,300 young people in Colorado have been sent to rigorous restorative justice programs where they meet face to face with those they’ve harmed. According to a state study, fewer than 10% committed another crime within a year after completion. By comparison, the re-offense rate for young people on juvenile probation in Colorado is 16%.

Minnesota Rep. Sandra Feist, DFL-New Brighton, is the vice chair of the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee and the main author of the proposals. She said the state needs a “more equitable and responsive juvenile justice system than the one we currently have — which clearly is not working.”

And DFL Senate President Bobby Joe Champion said he is working on a bill to address problems with Minnesota’s extended youth probation system. Children can be placed on extended probation until their 21st birthday or for as long as seven years. The system was created in the early 1990s as an alternative to incarceration for those who commit repeat violent crimes. It’s become known as a “back door” to prison because it ensnares teens who would not usually qualify for adult criminal sentences.

About half of the 1,335 Minnesota young people placed on extended probation since 2011 have had that status revoked and criminal sentences imposed, according to a Star Tribune analysis of court data. Champion wants to “modernize” the program. Instead of sending young people to prison for technical probation violations, the system should do more to get at the root causes of their behaviors.

As the Star Tribune Editorial Board has previously argued, it’s critical for the state and counties to provide safe, effective options for young people in the system. There must be an adequate commitment of resources and programs that not only punish but rehabilitate — something other than sending offenders to their communities without support or moving them into out-of-state or adult facilities.

The DFL proposals hold promise to address the flaws in Minnesota’s current patchwork of juvenile justice rules. They merit support as they move through the legislative process this session to create a more equitable and effective way to handle the state’s child and teen offenders.

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Mankato Free Press. January 24, 2023.

Editorial: Setting carbon goals for utilities a good move

Setting goals, by themselves, don’t guarantee results.

But that doesn’t mean goals are not valuable, even vital.

Minnesota lawmakers are making a push for utilities to go carbon-free by 2040.

A Senate bill authored by DFL Sen. Nick Frentz, of North Mankato, would set certain benchmarks for utilities and set a target of them producing carbon neutral energy in 18 years.

The legislation would not require utilities to use a specific mix of energy, leaving them to take the route that works best for them. It would also allow utilities to go to the Public Utilities Commission to get a waiver if the utility has substantially reached goals but for good reason has not been able to achieve the full goals.

A companion bill is moving through the House.

Already, numerous corporations have set goals to be carbon neutral at a certain date.

Some criticize setting such goals when it’s uncertain if the benchmarks can be met with available technology and at a cost that can be tolerated.

But without any goals, it is too easy to continue to backslide on seriously tackling climate change.

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change notes that while global greenhouse gas emissions have reached the highest levels in human history in recent years, the rate of growth has slowed. But they note that more serious action needs to be taken to head off disaster.

And, it is possible. The IPCC notes that since 2010 there has been a decrease of up to 85% in the costs of solar and wind energy and batteries.

It is not technology or cost that is preventing more progress, but a lack of political will. The DFL’s commitment to making better progress is good for the state’s future and should be a commitment taken on by more states and the federal government.

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