Editorial Roundup: Minnesota

Minneapolis Star Tribune. March 27, 2023.

Editorial: The case for rental assistance in Minnesota

Increased funding in Minnesota would help low-income families, reduce other burdens.

In many Minnesota counties, an average of 1 in 7 renters spends more than half of their monthly income on housing. And in some counties, that figure is as high as 56%.

That means lower-income individuals, families and seniors often face tough budget choices that force them to spend less — or not at all — on necessities such as medications, food and transportation.

That’s why a bill urged by a coalition of housing advocates who call their efforts “Bring it Home Minnesota” merits support. The legislation would create and fund a new rental assistance program administered by the state to help lower-income households that spend more than 30% of their annual income on market-rate rent.

Under the program, a state agency would issue grants to program administrators at the local level. They, in turn, would provide rent subsidies. Any individual or family under 50% of the Area Median Income (AMI) and who pays more than 30% of their income toward rent would be eligible. AMI is calculated by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development for each region. For example, 50% of AMI for a family of four is $51,700 in the Twin Cities, according to Bring it Home, and even lower in rural counties.

Rep. Mike Howard, DFL-Richfield, chief author of the bill (HF 11) and chair of the House Housing Finance and Policy Committee, told an editorial writer that an important feature of the proposal is that it would not create a new department or structure and instead would use the current Section 8 delivery system.

Housing choice vouchers (known as Section 8) have been one of the most effective ways to reduce housing instability. Studies have shown that subsidizing rents can reduce government spending in education, health care and other economic assistance programs. Yet the waiting list for that program is long; only an estimated 1 in 4 households that apply receive that federal voucher.

Subsidizing market rate rents would help renters statewide. Some north-central Minnesota counties have higher rates of cost-burdened residents than suburban and metro areas. The subsidies also have a positive impact on racial equity. Housing advocates note that 1 in 3 Black and Native households pay over 30% of their income on rent, compared with 1 in 5 white households.

Another benefit of helping renters in this way is that cities would be less likely to adopt rent control policies, which often have unintended consequences.

At this point in the legislative session, a housing spending target of about $1 billion has been set for various housing programs. Most of that would come from the record $17 billion surplus as one-time money, with about $50 million designated for ongoing programs.

Ben Helvick Anderson, of Beacon Interfaith Housing Collaborative, told an editorial writer that at $2 billion over the biennium, the Bring it Home initiative would help about 220,000 eligible Minnesota households.

That amount won’t be available, but some portion of state housing funding should be used to increase rent assistance for low-income individuals and families. Affordable housing remains out of reach for too many Minnesotans.

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Mankato Free Press. March 26, 2023.

Editorial: Public Safety: Gun bills moving in right direction

Public safety bills moving through the Minnesota Senate strike the right balance between restrictions that should lessen gun violence and accommodating hunters and gun-collecting enthusiasts.

Three bills passed the Senate Judiciary and Public Safety Committee last week, one a party-line vote and another two on a voice vote, in which votes of individual senators are not recorded but the chair makes a ruling on the final count.

The bills would enhance Minnesota’s background check laws, with some exceptions for family transfers and hunting guns. Another bill adds a so-called red flag law that would allow a court to take guns from someone deemed a threat to themselves or others. A third increases prison time for people who are in possession of illegal guns, such as machine guns or trigger enhancing devices that replicate machine guns.

There are plenty of reasonable exemptions for law-abiding gun owners. The bill will expand background checks only on pistols and assault-style rifles sold at gun shows or online. It will not require the checks for the transfer of hunting rifles. The new law would require people to get a permit from law enforcement, which would then have 30 days to complete a background check.

The permit could be denied if the person had a record of domestic violence, was in a gang database or deemed a danger to themselves or others.

The red flag law passed is similar to such laws in 23 other states. Those looking to have guns taken from a person thought to be a risk could petition law enforcement or ask for a hearing in front of a judge. The law lays out the process for a gun owner to quickly appeal and regain possession of their gun.

We have long advocated broader background checks on gun shows and online transfers and red flag laws. A nationwide 2017 survey showed 22 percent of gun transfers in the U.S. happened without background checks at all.

We have also supported enforcing gun laws already on the books, including strict charges when felons are in possession of a weapon (a charge that is regularly plea bargained down), and increasing penalties for straw buyers, those who legally buy guns and resell them to gangs or criminals.

A law to increase penalties for owing a machine gun or making one out of a regular gun is a no-brainer and was not controversial in the Senate debate.

Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, the chairman of the judiciary committee, said he would not bring up any other gun bills this session, including more controversial ones about limiting the age of those who can own an assault-type rifle and stricter laws for storing guns in the home. We believe that was a wise decision.

The hearing drew a crowd of testifiers with advocates for the new laws pointing to how a red flag law would have possibly prevented the Buffalo, Minnesota medical clinic shooting that killed one and injured others. People knew the shooter, and they knew he was dangerous. Others pointed out several mass killers passed background checks.

We can never guarantee these laws will stop all mass shootings or death by suicide or homicide. But we should do what we can, however imperfect.

The proposals moving through the Senate and likely to be passed by the House will finally give Minnesota commonsense gun laws that bolster public safety for all citizens.

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