- Associated Press - Thursday, October 9, 2014

Minneapolis Star Tribune, Oct. 6

Strong start on fixing child protection

With just three months before its recommendations are due to the Minnesota Legislature, the new Governor’s Task Force on the Protection of Children needs to get to work.

Fortunately, the high-caliber list of people just appointed suggests the group is up to its critical mission: diving deep into Minnesota’s flawed child protection system and finding fixes.

Gov. Mark Dayton recently announced the task force’s formation after a haunting Star Tribune story detailed the brutal death of 4-year-old Eric Dean. Fifteen reports alleging that Eric was being abused had been filed with child protection officials.

Yet the little boy from Starbuck died in February 2013 from abdominal blows. Among the injuries noted by the medical examiner: bite marks on his scalp and face. His father’s girlfriend is serving a life sentence for his murder.

On Friday, Dayton released the names of the 24 people who will serve alongside task force co-chairs Lucinda Jesson, Department of Human Services commissioner, and Toni Carter, a Ramsey County commissioner. The list is impressive. Members appear to have deep expertise and bring to the group valuable perspectives. Physicians, law enforcement officers, county-level human services officials, judges and child advocacy experts will serve. The group also brings geographic diversity, with members from the metro and greater Minnesota.

In particular, the Star Tribune Editorial Board was pleased to see Kathleen Blatz named to the group. A former state Supreme Court chief justice, Blatz has long been a champion for transparency in the child protection system. She has also long questioned whether the system responds forcefully enough to abuse reports.

Other task force members also stand out for their willingness to ask tough questions and for their child advocacy expertise Among them: Dr. Mark Hudson of Children’s Hospitals and Clinics, Rich Gehrman of Safe Passage for Children of Minnesota, and state Sens. Julie Rosen, R-Fairmont, and Kathy Sheran, D-Mankato.

The appointments of Jesson and Carter as co-chairs raised concerns that the panel would protect the status quo. But with the additions of Blatz and the other excellent task force members named last week, Minnesotans should have high expectations for the work that lies ahead.

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The Free Press of Mankato, Oct. 8

No-decision on marriage may prove decisive

An adage demands: Lead, follow or get out of the way. The Supreme Court on Monday eyed the movement to legalize gay marriage and opted to get out of the way.

The court declined to hear appeals of rulings from three different circuit courts of appeals striking down five state bans on same-sex marriage. The court’s decision not to decide opens the door at the very least to the legalization of gay marriage in six other states covered by those appeals courts.

It also signals to the appellate courts that have yet to rule on cases in their jurisdictions: There is no argument against these rulings strong enough for us to consider.

At this point, the high court has a plausible argument for staying out of the issue. Since the court struck down key parts of the Defense of Marriage act last year, no state ban has survived federal court review. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said last month in a speech at the University of Minnesota Law School: “When all the courts of appeals are in agreement, there is no need for us to rush to step in.”

That may change in short order. The 6th Circuit Court of Appeals, which handles cases from Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee, had been viewed as likely to uphold state bans in a ruling expected shortly.

Perhaps Monday’s development will prod the 6th Circuit to follow its brethren elsewhere. If so, the Supreme Court will be satisfied to stay out of it.

This is a piecemeal victory for marriage equality. As matters stand today, a same-sex couple that marries in Minnesota (where legalization came through legislative action, not judicial fiat) and moves to South Dakota will find their union unrecognized by their new state.

That’s not ideal.

But everybody, on and off the court, can also see the direction the politics are going. Gay marriage will eventually be recognized in all 50 states. This week’s non-decision says the court is willing to let that happen without leading the parade.

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St. Cloud Times, Oct. 7

Report shows danger of inaccurate train lists

The Federal Railroad Administration’s self-stated mission “is to enable the safe, reliable, and efficient movement of people and goods for a strong America, now and in the future.”

While it’s no secret the Bakken oil boom, a surge of farm commodities and the usual rail traffic have tested that goal the past several years, a recent Minnesota Public Radio News report cast serious doubt about the safety aspect of the FRA’s pledge.

“Mystery trains: Crews, communities in the dark on chemical cargo” detailed how freight trains too often violate FRA regulations by moving cross-country without correctly documenting hazardous materials on board.

From the report: “When federal inspectors checked manifests of all rail haulers in Minnesota over a three-year period, one in five contained inaccurate information about cars hauling hazardous materials, according to FRA records (from 2011 through 2013) and obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.”

That’s a potentially deadly problem because if trains get into accidents, first responders rely on those lists to determine how to respond. If they don’t know cars involved in an accident carry explosive or toxic materials, their lives and the lives of people in the vicinity could be in jeopardy.

Worse yet, the FRA appears reluctant to talk about current conditions and what is being done to resolve the problem. The agency refused to give MPR its latest audits of train lists, probably because MPR’s review of FRA records for 2011-13 showed a higher rate of violations than the FRA found in 2006.

Indeed, in 2007, the National Transportation Safety Board recommended requiring “that railroads immediately provide to emergency responders accurate, real-time information regarding the identity and location of all hazardous materials on a train.” Six years later, the FRA and the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration reported working on changes. It’s now seven years later. Shouldn’t solutions be in place?

Please don’t misunderstand. The FRA is not to blame in creating these lists. That’s the responsibility of the rail companies and the staff they employ to compile trains.

However, it is the job of the FRA to hold companies accountable, especially when their inaccuracy combined with an accident could take the lives of innocent people.

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