- Associated Press - Thursday, April 2, 2015

Star Tribune, March 30

Convert outrage over Indiana to persuasion

The United States is in the midst of a rapid social transformation for the better, as same-sex couples are now allowed to marry in 37 states and the U.S. Supreme Court is set to weigh in this summer on a case that could legalize gay marriage nationwide.

The speed with which this civil rights revolution has swept the nation is welcome. But the swell of support makes it easy to forget that deep divisions remain over this issue. Recently, those differences surfaced in Indiana, where Republican Gov. Mike Pence signed a controversial “religious freedom” law. Opponents of the measure fear that, among other things, it could allow businesses to refuse service to gay couples, even though Indiana now permits same-sex marriage in compliance with federal court rulings. By some estimates, there are dozens of measures in other states seeking to create legal loopholes for discrimination like this against same-sex couples.

While other states and the federal government have long had religious freedom laws similar to Indiana’s in place, the Hoosier State’s legislation comes as public support for gay marriage has hit critical mass. The high-profile, high-intensity criticism of Indiana and Pence is about much more than events in a single state. It’s about ending this form of discrimination everywhere.

Strong leadership is needed to convince doubters that same-sex marriage rights are built upon this nation’s bedrock value of equality. That’s why it’s reassuring to see a model that worked in Minnesota - where business and sports leaders helped defeat the 2012 gay-marriage-ban constitutional amendment - being brought to bear again in the wake of the Indiana law’s signing.

Over the past week, prominent business executives have stepped up nationally to make it clear that Indiana’s pushing to enshrine this type of discrimination is badly out of step with the business community and that it is putting economic development at risk. Executives from Angie’s List have suspended a substantial expansion in Indiana - a Rust Belt state that badly needs the 1,000 jobs now in jeopardy. On Monday, Apple CEO Tim Cook penned a passionate Washington Post commentary, making it clear that discriminatory laws like Indiana’s “truly will hurt jobs, growth and the vibrancy of parts of the country where a 21st-century economy was once welcomed with open arms.”

Former NBA star Charles Barkley also leveraged his high-profile position as a commentator for NCAA men’s basketball over the weekend to weigh in against the Indiana law.

High-profile support like this matters. In Minnesota, business leaders such as travel magnate Marilyn Carlson Nelson and sports celebrities such as former Viking Chris Kluwe not only helped defeat the gay marriage amendment, but they also helped pave the way for the Legislature to enact a law authorizing gay marriage the following year. The pragmatic arguments they made, as well as their personal credibility, helped reassure the state that recognizing same-sex marriage was just and necessary.

Change, even for the best, is always difficult. A U.S. Supreme Court ruling this summer on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage bans could potentially establish this civil right in other states where deep divisions endure. Cook and others need to follow up their outrage over Indiana with sustained activism. Leadership by business and sports figures helped win over Minnesotans. It will be even more critical in winning hearts and minds elsewhere.


St. Cloud Times, April 1

Let felons vote after they’re out of prison

Legislation to restore voting rights to convicted felons who have served their sentences continues to languish at the Capitol in St. Paul. Those rights aren’t restored until felons have been discharged from their entire sentence, including any term of probation or supervised release.

That needs to change to allow them to vote once they are no longer incarcerated. This affects more than 47,000 Minnesotans.

Denied the right to vote because of a state law dating back to the 1860s, convicted felons who have completed their sentences are working to become part of the community. They may face difficulties in getting employment and housing. They also are working to become part of the fabric of their families and regain acceptance in their communities. Giving them the right to vote helps them be a contributing member of society. Having connections to their communities may help to keep them from reoffending.

Thirteen states give people the right to vote after they are no longer in prison, including during probation or supervised release.

Legislation to restore the vote to convicted felons who have served their prison sentences and are living in the state has bipartisan support from a large and varied group, including the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, many faith-based organizations, direct service organizations and civic engagement and advocacy groups. The list of more than 60 organizations supporting the move is impressive.

Granting convicted felons who have completed their incarceration the right to vote also will avoid confusion at election polls. Law enforcement won’t have to spend time and money chasing the few reports of election fraud caused mostly by convicted felons who didn’t realize they can’t vote until they complete their entire sentence.

So where is the Restore the Vote legislation?

There are bipartisan Restore the Vote bills in the Minnesota House and Senate. The Senate bill is ready for a floor vote. It is included in the Senate omnibus elections bill. In the House, the bill didn’t get a committee hearing by the March 27 deadline. That is surprising because the chief author of the bill is Rep. Tony Cornish, Republican chair of the House Public Safety and Crime Prevention Policy and Finance Committee. The Restore the Vote bill appears to be a non-starter in the House.

But there could be a compromise during conference committee discussions. We urge the House and Senate leadership to make sure this bipartisan bill gets floor votes.

The Minnesota Legislature needs to pass the Restore the Vote bills.


The Free Press of Mankato, April 1

Foster care results troubling

The only thing worse than child abuse is repeated child abuse.

That appears to be happening all too often in our system of caring for abused children. With an emphasis on reuniting a family involved in abuse of its children, children who are placed with foster parents, often leave too early to go back to an abusive home.

A recent in-depth report by the Star Tribune found that the state fell short in seven of 15 standards for getting abused and neglected children into safe and permanent homes.

In Minnesota, a full 25 percent of children returned to an abusive family after foster care must be removed from the abusive home within a year. That’s two and half times the federal standard of 10 percent.

Foster care providers say the emphasis on reunited children with abusive families with attempts to create better environments often sends the children back to original families too early. When they arrive back at a foster home, they are even more abused or worse off.

Many children in the Star Tribune story spent their lives in numerous foster homes. The continual transitioning has traumatic effects and hurts these children in ways that make recovery difficult.

Many foster parents say the children they take care of have been so abused, they have no self-esteem and trust no one.

It’s a difficult cycle to break, but it appears that we are not giving foster parents enough of a chance to help a child adapt to a stable home even one that is not their own.

The report also shows that kids in foster care for two years should have to live in only one or two homes, but in Minnesota, that happens only 34 percent of the time. In one case, a child was in 13 different placements over 8 years.

Courts are supposed to be able to place abused children in a permanent home within a year, but 4,000 children did not meet that deadline since 2009, according to the Star Tribune report.

To be sure, there are foster homes that end up being just as troubling a place as an abusive first family for kids to grow up. A foster care family and licensing agency faces state sanctions after a six year old died in their care.

But a common theme seems to be emerging. Human service policy seems to favor family unity and other sometimes unrealistic social goals before the safety of the child.

The foster care system must be examined under that light.

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