Editorial Roundup: Minnesota

Minneapolis Star Tribune. June 10, 2021.

Editorial: Balancing interests at George Floyd Square

Intersection can stand as a memorial with access restored.

George Floyd Square in Minneapolis is well-known as a gathering place to honor the man who was murdered by a police officer and as a symbol of racial healing, justice and reconciliation.

Visitors from all over the nation and even the world have come to bring memorials of various kinds and stand near where Floyd lost his life just over a year ago under the knee of former officer Derek Chauvin.

At the same time, the area at 38th Street and Chicago Avenue now held in such reverence but also closed to traffic had been a busy thoroughfare that provided essential access to businesses, transit, city services and the surrounding neighborhood.

And, as Mayor Jacob Frey has pointed out, access is the law, meaning that the city is required to provide it for businesses and residents. That’s a key reason why the intersection should reopen with some type of memorial still standing in the area.

In our view, both goals are possible despite the efforts of some community activists to permanently keep those blocks cut off to traffic as a memorial site. Twice in the last week or so, the community group Agape and the city have tried to respectfully clear the area for the return of traffic, only to see protesters put makeshift barriers back up.

That back-and-forth conflict cannot go on forever. The decision to reopen should prevail.

The access arguments are supported by at least two polls of those most affected. City surveys of area residents found strong support for reopening the area to traffic and for creating a permanent memorial. In one, 65% of respondents said they supported reopening the intersection in some form; about 19% said they believed the area should remain closed indefinitely.

Residents are also concerned about safety as the area has been especially hard hit by rising crime rates. Many neighbors worry that the area is almost a “no go” zone for law enforcement. As an example, gunshots rang out near the intersection on May 25 of this year, just as memorial activities were about to begin at the site.

Following dozens of meetings with citizens and businesses in the area, city officials rightly concluded that the intersection should be reopened. In a statement last week, Frey, City Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins and City Council Member Alondra Cano (whose wards meet at the site) said:

“The city’s three guiding principles for the reconnection of 38th and Chicago have been community safety, racial healing and economic stability and development for Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian and other communities of color.

“We are collectively committed to establishing a permanent memorial at the intersection, preserving the artwork, and making the area an enduring space for racial healing.”

In that spirit, the city has two possible plans for reopening on its website that both call for some level of traffic. One leaves the now-iconic fist sculpture in the middle of the intersection with a roundabout, while the other shows a relocated fist sculpture and a small memorial on the sidewalk at the intersection. And the city and community partners have committed to a separate plan to find a permanent home for a memorial that would include some of the artwork from the site.

Both are reasonable possibilities that respect the need for a place of remembrance and the need for community safety and commerce.

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Mankato Free Press. June 16, 2021.

Editorial: Public Safety: Weak gun laws have loopholes

A person living in her car in Minneapolis bought 47 guns. She sold some to criminals who committed crimes and only by chance and luck was she caught and arrested.

Our weak gun laws are not designed to prevent such activity, and law enforcement officials say such cases are on the rise. And with continued opposition to even talking about gun safety laws, this kind of straw-buying, lawbreaking criminals will likely have better odds next time.

An in-depth report in the Star Tribune showed Sarah Jean Elwood was able to purchase 47 guns at various gun shops legally because she did not have a felony record. Plenty of folks who did have felony records bought from her, and she made thousands of dollars on the deals.

So-called “straw-purchasing” is a state and federal crime, but law enforcement experts say there is no way to know how many straw purchases are made because there is no way to track evidence like the purchase of multiple firearms by any one buyer. Elwood bought the guns in May and by the end of the month, three had turned up in criminal investigations.

There are no penalties for dealers whose guns are used disproportionately in crimes. Experts say some dealers likely know they’re selling to a straw buyer, but do so anyway. One study published in the Journal of Urban Health showed one in five gun dealers in a survey sold guns to a person who specifically stated they were buying it for someone else.

Federal prosecutors in Minnesota are currently investigating the straw buying of some 100 guns, seeking others besides Elwood.

While Democrats and a few Republicans in the Minnesota Legislature have attempted to pass common-sense gun safety laws, they have been met with opposition by the powerful gun lobby, Republicans and a few Democrats.

Minnesota in 2015 made straw-buying a gross misdemeanor, a low-level crime that carries a maximum fine of $3,000. Bill author Sen. Ron Latz told the Star Tribune that he doubted there was the political will in Minnesota to make any gun safety laws tougher.

Creating legislation to prevent straw-buying, like licensing and enforcing the laws we have on the books, should not be a partisan issue.

Maryland, a state with a GOP governor, has passed gun licensing laws that helped reduce straw purchases by 82 percent, according to Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Prevention and Policy at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, who helped conduct the study.

Minnesota and federal laws are clearly inadequate to prevent gun-trafficking by straw buyers. We can have the political will to do something about it, or we can let straw buyers continue to beat our lackluster efforts.

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Albert Lea Tribune. June 11, 2021.

Editorial: Clean car standards do not need to be forced

In a Minnesota Public Radio story this week, it was reported that one of the sticking points to agreeing to a budget this year at the Minnesota Legislature was the struggle over clean car standards the governor’s administration is trying to push through.

Gov. Tim Walz and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency have been working hard to push through the adoption of California’s standards. Among other things, this would require that auto dealers offer more hybrid and electric vehicles on their lots.

After a court ruling in May cleared the way for emissions standards to move forward, the implementation of the standards wouldn’t go into effect until January 2024 following a federally required two-year wait and would apply to 2025 vehicles.

However, we don’t think this is a fight Minnesotans need right now, despite the good it would do for the environment. This is especially true in a session where everything else is in contention and very little progress one way or the other is made on any of it.

Proponents of the move say getting more hybrid and electric cars on Minnesota roads would cut down on greenhouse gas emissions. However, those who oppose the move say it would put undue pressure on dealers, especially along the border where the temptation would lie for buyers to simply go to Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota or Wisconsin to buy their next vehicle for a cheaper price.

“All this rule is going to do is mean higher prices for everyone, and fewer trucks and fewer vehicles that people want to buy, on dealership lots,” said Scott Lambert, president of the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association in a December 18, 2020, story.

In that same story, Rep. Dale Lueck (R-Aitkin) said that the price of a car could go up by as much as $2,500, though state officials said that number is closer to $1,000. Either way, that can mean the difference for whether or not many families buy out of state rather than in state.

Another argument is that what is true for metro regions isn’t necessarily true for rural Minnesota, where the balance of gas to electric/hybrid vehicles is still weighted toward farmers using gas vehicles. There just isn’t enough electric/hybrid trucks used by farmers that are financially acceptable.

Granted, the standard would not apply to farming equipment, off-road vehicles, heavy-duty vehicles or used vehicles, but it will apply to new vehicles and pick-up trucks. The pick-up truck is the most used vehicle in farming. This undoubtedly will make life more difficult for farmers, who are a substantial piece of local economies in Minnesota.

Climate change is a very real part of our lives these days and legislators should be taking the threat seriously and begin looking closely at the future of the part we play, but simply adopting another state’s model that is vastly different from our own is not the step we need to take.

Environmentally sound vehicles are coming and are becoming more and more affordable. Car dealers have indicated that they support the goals of the state to get more electric/hybrid vehicles on our roads. So why not take the time and work towards a common goal? A common sense goal.

Minnesota doesn’t have the pollution issues of California, and while pollution is not a problem we can ignore, considering we still have a state budget to pass and the threat of a government shutdown, we feel our time can be better spent elsewhere.

We also don’t see the strain put on auto dealers as the right thing to do. Dealers could face potential problems moving electric/hybrids, meaning car buyers may not be as inclined to purchase a vehicle from a local dealer, bringing economic harm to the dealer and the community.

Republicans have said they are willing to compromise on the issue. At first Senate Republicans opposed the standards outright, but have since proposed a two-year delay. Our advice — kick this can down the road and pick it up later with a more compromising spirit.

Dependence on fossil fuels absolutely needs to be addressed. Minnesota has made great strides in being environmentally friendly in the last 20 years. Wind farms have not only been on the leading edge of this movement, they have also contributed to a windfall for counties reaping the tax benefits.

At some point we hope vehicles can also contribute to that as they become more available and cost efficient for both buyer and seller. Right now, the infrastructure to support this push in southeast Minnesota isn’t there.

Take time, build the infrastructure and introduce this process steadily with all sides being represented.

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