- Associated Press - Monday, June 5, 2017

Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 2

Stay the course on fight to curb sex trade in Minnesota, nation

The U.S. attorney’s office in Minnesota just wrapped up 21 more indictments of sex traffickers - part of its ongoing work to break up what have become sophisticated, international criminal organizations that exploit immigrant women and girls. To their credit, the exceptional work of prosecutors and investigators has not skipped a beat despite the loss of their former leader, Andrew Luger, who was forced to step down as U.S. attorney after President Trump requested mass resignations months ago.

Now a replacement must be named, and the question of whether and how that work will continue is a significant one. U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken of Minnesota are seeking a replacement to nominate, but one committed to carrying on the work already started. “Sex trafficking has become a horrendous problem in Minnesota and across the nation,” Franken said recently. He said that he and Klobuchar consider it essential to nominate someone who will “continue this important work.”

But this White House has a track record of appointing those with views contrary to the missions of offices they would operate. Minnesotans should make it a point to add their voices to those of their senators, making clear that the vital work this office has done to curb sex trafficking, both of juveniles and young immigrant women, along with its dedicated efforts on countering terrorist extremism, must proceed under a new U.S. attorney.

Acting U.S. Attorney Greg Brooker recently told the Star Tribune Editorial Board that he and his staff are pressing ahead with their work, building on the valuable, intelligence-sharing network forged with other law enforcement agencies and nonprofit organizations. They remain intent on wiping out what has become an organized crime network centered around the cross-country trafficking of modern-day sex slaves.

Sadly, Minnesota has become a hot spot for such exploitation. Brooker said traffickers are drawn by a combination of “tremendous demand here,” and modern airports, roadways and shipping ports. The U.S. attorney, working with Homeland Security, the St. Paul Police Department and a host of others, has uncovered and now is prosecuting one of the largest sex-trafficking rings in the country. Their combined efforts have delivered what one agent called “a gut punch” that now is being followed up by Internal Revenue Service analysis to track the money trail across the world.

These are complicated cases, with webs that span nations and elaborate money-laundering operations that run into tens of millions of dollars. The work, Brooker said, is far from over. Traffickers have the sophistication and resources to create fictional identities for the women they prey upon. They evade U.S. immigration laws by fraudulently obtaining visas. Victims smuggled in then spend years working off the expenses incurred by their traffickers.

And now a marquee event is coming. The Super Bowl has become an unwilling magnet for sex traffickers and soon will land in Minneapolis. That will require a ramping up of investigative work, not a pullback.

A new U.S. attorney will, of course, have his or her own objectives for the office. But the efforts to curb international sex trafficking here and across the country have proved their worth: attacking harmful criminal activity, revealing weaknesses in the immigration system and halting the violation of basic human rights. That work must go on.

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St. Cloud Times, June 4

Dirty politics takes Minnesota to new low

With 16 special sessions in the past 20 years, Minnesotans have grown accustomed to their legislators and governors essentially failing to compromise on policy and budget matters.

This past week, though, Minnesotans saw the bar for acceptable state governance dragged to a new low - and possibly cemented there.

With a special session already underway, leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature grabbed the bar and dove deep into the political gutter. They secretly linked passage of their coveted tax bill to separate language that would have eliminated the state Department of Revenue if Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed the tax bill.

An outraged Dayton late Tuesday night probably cemented the bar below the political mud line. He signed the Republicans’ ransom note of a budget plan, but then used his veto authority to remove all future funding of the Legislature.

Welcome to the subterranean mosh pit that’s become Minnesota politics, aka the Capitol in St. Paul. With every session, it moves farther away from a place of honorable public service.

It’s now a place where the vast majority of rank-and-file legislators of both parties march to their leaders’ beats no matter the level of ridiculousness. Where special interests quietly set those beats. And where party leaders count on the ability to craft closed-door deals long after deadline, knowing their peers and the public won’t have time to scrutinize their work before votes must be cast and bills signed or vetoed.

Going forward

Know this: Short of voters demanding differently or legal rulings forcing change, don’t expect Minnesota to get out of this mud bath. If anything, expect the state to sink deeper in the mucky wake of this entrenched two-party system.

Dayton’s Tuesday objective was clear: Avoid a government shutdown while forcing the Republican Legislature to return in a special session to renegotiate items he finds particularly onerous.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, applying anything but consistent logic, labeled his party’s move “genius” while claiming Dayton’s was unconstitutional.

The descriptor Daudt should have used was “unconscionable” - for both actions! What happens next is anyone’s guess.

Local legislators?

Regardless of what’s next involving Dayton and legislative leaders, local legislators, all of whom are Republicans, owe an explanation to all area residents as to why they go along with such tactics.

Of course, if voters accept silence - or worse, “the party made me do it” - then they have little cause to complain now and should expect only more mud wrestling in 2018.

Remember, this session began with a $1.65 billion budget surplus, low unemployment statewide and a fairly stable fiscal future.

Yet legislators and the governor could not reach reasonable compromises on many key spending and policy issues.

At the local level, it’s very hard to find much to celebrate.

Bonding dollars went to some localized projects, none of which will have substantial regional impacts. Despite two years of promises, there remains no funding to test Northstar rail service to St. Cloud. And transportation and education budgets, while adequate in the short term, don’t inspire long-term confidence.

Without a doubt, the biggest gains this session came on behalf of (big) business interests and those on the wealthier end of Minnesota’s income spectrum.

Certainly, some of those were needed. But it’s hard to get excited about the whole package when passage relies on a combination of secrecy and mean-spirited politics that leaves all of Minnesota foundering in mud.

___

The Free Press of Mankato, June 3

Political shenanigans: Don’t waste taxpayer money on theatrics

Just when Minnesotans thought the DFL and GOP would finally get along and pass a compromise budget with something for everybody, the two sides snatched defeat out of the jaws of victory.

A new political imbroglio between Gov. Mark Dayton and the GOP-controlled Legislature threatens to saddle Minnesotans with legal costs and increase the degree of animosity that already exists.

Dayton and the Legislature agreed on a budget that offers reasonable compromises and keeps Minnesota government working for the people. For that, both sides deserve credit.

But a provision in the tax bill that removed funding from the Department of Revenue if Dayton didn’t sign the bill was ill-advised at best and deceptive at worst. Republicans argue that provision was in every draft of the bill Dayton and his team received and that Dayton could have objected to it far earlier in the process. Dayton claims his team didn’t see it, in part, because they got the bill too late to review. This claim is shaky as well.

So Dayton reacted, some say retaliated, by using his line-item veto power to cut funding for the Legislature itself, saying if the Legislature wants him to restore funding, they must renegotiate parts of the tax bill and some other provisions in other bills.

The Legislature is considering legal action. But law experts say the Legislature’s quid pro quo provision was likely unconstitutional. It can’t restrict the power the governor already retains or use financial coercion. Dayton’s veto would be a tougher case for lawyers to argue since a line item veto is perfectly legal.

So what we end up with is a race to the bottom of bad faith negotiating.

Dayton’s veto cannot be undone, so it’s hard to see how the problem can be solved without a special session. But with bad faith now part of the discourse, the special session certainly be contentious.

If the GOP sues Dayton over the veto, Dayton may well countersue for the “poison pill” provision. The only Minnesotans who gain will be the lawyers trying the case.

So it’s back to the drawing board.

A brief special session should not include renegotiating all the provisions every DFL constituency didn’t like about the education bill or the public safety bill.

Dayton and his team should have seen the quid pro quo provision and objected to it earlier. Republicans should have known it was not going to pass constitutional muster.

Both sides owe Minnesotans an apology for these political shenanigans. But more than that, they owe Minnesotans the effort to go back one more time and strike a reasonable compromise on the tax bill to get the Legislature funded and the government working.

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