- Associated Press - Monday, July 31, 2017

Minneapolis Star Tribune, July 27

Finally, Minnesota legislators get a raise

House Speaker Kurt Daudt finally came around last week on a legislative salary matter that we thought Minnesota voters settled last Nov. 8. Under pressure from a lawsuit filed by two House members, the GOP leader accepted the higher salaries set by the new Legislative Salary Council, as authorized by a 2016 constitutional amendment that was approved with a 76 percent vote.

Daudt’s decision was one that, to their credit, the leaders of the GOP Senate majority made without quibble or fuss when the council acted in March. It shouldn’t have been a hard choice.

Accepting the council’s action is consistent not only with the newly amended state Constitution but also with sound stewardship of a lawmaking institution whose members were being paid a paltry $31,140 a year and had not had a salary increase since 1999. Low salaries had become an impediment to candidate recruitment and a spur to early departures from legislative service.

What’s more, the council is a bipartisan, geographically representative body appointed by the governor and the Minnesota Supreme Court chief justice. With former state economist Tom Stinson as its chair, it commands respect.

Daudt, R-Crown, initially refused the new $45,000 annual salary the council set, objecting to a 45 percent pay hike in one stroke. He also seemed wary of subjecting himself and his fellow Republicans to any accusation that they had been party to raising their own salaries. That possibility remained despite the constitutional change because the Legislature and the governor, not the Salary Council, continue to set the House’s and Senate’s operating budget, which includes the salary appropriation.

On July 21, Daudt reversed course. “In light of recent court rulings and with the advice of counsel, it has become increasingly clear that the Minnesota House is constitutionally required to pay legislators the prescribed amount,” he conceded in a statement.

House and Senate leaders should seal that understanding by establishing an open and standing appropriation that changes automatically at the Salary Council’s bidding. That would create a statutory hurdle for future legislators to climb if they are tempted to play politics with their own pay.

Legislators should bow to the council’s judgment in one other way. They should pay heed to its recommendation to eliminate per diem, the fixed daily compensation that legislators receive during sessions. Per diem - $66 per day in the House, $86 per day in the Senate - is justified as reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses. But it bears no relationship to actual costs and lacks the transparency that compensation for public work should have.

The council urged that per diem be scrapped. Instead, “members should be reimbursed for their reasonable business expenses, as other organizations routinely do for their employees.” If Daudt still wants to rein in legislative compensation, reforming per diem would be a fine way to start.


The Free Press of Mankato, July 28

Transgender policy: Trump discriminates against patriots

With three out-of-the-blue tweets on Wednesday morning, President Donald Trump seemed to surprise everyone from his staff, to the Pentagon to lawmakers in Congress.

“After consultation with my Generals and military experts, please be advised that the United States Government will not accept or allow Transgender individuals to serve in any capacity in the U.S. Military. Our military must be focused on decisive and overwhelming victory and cannot be burdened with the tremendous medical costs and disruption that transgender in the military would entail. Thank you,” Trump tweeted.

We are disappointed in the president’s decision to ban transgender Americans from serving in the military. Like many of the president’s tweeted policy statements, this one came without explanation, without a timeline and without any indication on what would happen to the estimated 15,500 transgender soldiers currently serving in the military.

In a Wednesday afternoon press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders couldn’t answer that question, “That’s something that the Department of Defense and the White House will have to work together as implementation takes place and is done so lawfully,” she said.

While it is not necessarily surprising that Trump wants to roll back the Obama-era policy of allowing transgender people to serve - since he seemingly wants to overturn every Obama-era policy - what is surprising is the backlash he has received even from conservative lawmakers including Sens. Richard Shelby, R-Ala.; Thom Tillis, R-N.C.; Dan Sullivan, R-Alaska; and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, who all came out against the policy.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, gave this statement, “I don’t think we should be discriminating against anyone. Transgender people are people and deserve the best we can do for them.”

A statement issued by Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., read, “The President’s tweet this morning regarding transgender Americans in the military is yet another example of why major policy announcements should not be made via Twitter. The Department of Defense has already decided to allow currently-serving transgender individuals to stay in the military, and many are serving honorably today … There is no reason to force service members who are able to fight, train, and deploy to leave the military - regardless of their gender identity. We should all be guided by the principle that any American who wants to serve our country and is able to meet the standards should have the opportunity to do so - and should be treated as the patriots they are.”

We agree with McCain. Leaving more than 15,000 service people wondering if they’ll be kicked out of the military was reckless. It’s also bad policy. These patriots deserve better.


Post Bulletin, July 27

When it comes to wastewater, Amish must render unto Caesar

When law and religion come into conflict, the results can get as murky as “graywater.”

Take, for example, the case of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency versus members of the Swartzentruber Amish community in Fillmore County. Fifteen members of that community face possible contempt of court charges for ignoring repeated orders to bring their homes into compliance with state and county ordinances regarding so-called “graywater” sewage disposal.

Graywater, not to be confused with raw sewage, is indoor household water that has been used for cooking, laundry, cleaning and bathing.

In court last week, several of the defendants cited a Bible verse, Romans 12:2, in which the Apostle Paul says believers should “be not conformed to this world.” Some members of the Amish community see septic systems as conforming to the modern world, so they steadfastly refuse.

Were we inclined to make a theological argument, we might point readers to Matthew 22:21, which says, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” That, at the very least, would seem to require the Amish pay whatever fines they have been assessed for failure to comply. Or, more directly, we’d note that in the very next chapter of Romans, Paul writes, “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God.”

That would seem like a tough verse for the Amish to get around.

But setting the Bible aside, we’d say the Fillmore County officials have been more than patient with the Amish community in this matter. For more than a decade, the county has nudged, pleaded and cajoled families to comply, and while some have complied, those who have refused have not been evicted.

Further complicating the legal tussle are at least two instances in which Amish families have built new homes without obtaining building permits - and without the wastewater systems that were mandated in all new dwellings as of December 2013. In one case, the family was ordered to cease construction. When building continued, the owners were hauled back into court, where they claimed not to have violated the order because they hadn’t done the work themselves.

That crosses a line.

Speaking of lines, if you know Fillmore County, you know Amish farms aren’t limited to one large, well-bordered area. They’re scattered across the landscape, intermingled with properties occupied by non-Amish families - families who have the right to clean well water and, if they’re lucky enough to have a stream, to have it free of untreated household wastewater.

Ultimately, the right to practice one’s religion is not limitless; it generally ends at the point where those beliefs come into conflict with another’s rights and/or the health and well-being of a community. The state has ruled that minimal standards of wastewater treatment are necessary to protect water quality across the state, and they apply to everyone.

That rule must be enforced because Amish farmers’ beliefs won’t stop contaminated water from seeping into Fillmore County’s karst landscape and groundwater.

So what should happen now?

We wouldn’t object to leaving as-is any Amish homes that were built before December 2013 when the new ordinance was approved but only for as long as the current owner - the one whose name is on the deed - is occupying that home. Before any sale or inheritance by another relative could take place, such homes would need to be brought into full compliance, as would any home that is expanded to add more living space.

Absolutely no new homes should be built without meeting the wastewater codes, and any construction without permits should be met with the same response that a non-Amish family would get. Construction should be halted, and if the owners refuse to comply, the new building should be condemned and taken down.

We hope it never comes to that.

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