- Associated Press - Monday, April 2, 2018

Mankato Free Press, March 29

Domestic abuse: Gun confiscation rules need to be tightened

A law that allows courts to confiscate guns from those convicted of child or domestic abuse or facing a restraining order was well intentioned when it was passed on a bipartisan vote in 2014, but a recent report shows lax enforcement is still putting victims at risk.

A KARE 11 TV investigative report aired in February shows about 3,000 cases of orders for protection statewide that automatically required the perpetrator to surrender firearms.

The required affidavit showing the firearms were removed and where they went was filed in just 4 percent of the cases. In Hennepin County, where 598 orders for protection cases were filed, the proper removal of guns paperwork was filed in just 2 percent of the cases.



So even though judges give court orders to confiscate guns, it appears such confiscation does not happen in hundreds of cases.

The law in question was actually sponsored by two former law enforcement officers in the 2014 Legislature - Rep. Tony Cornish, R-Vernon Center, and Sen. Dan Schoen, DFL-St. Paul Park. Both recently resigned amid allegations of sexual harassment.

But at the time, the law passed with bipartisan support because the alleged perpetrators had the so called “due process” of a court hearing before their firearms were confiscated. And judges considered whether guns were used in the threats that were the evidence used to issue the order for protection and confiscate guns.

But that law also made private the names of those individuals whose guns were confiscated, leaving even fewer ways to see if the law was being followed.

There also does not appear to be any audit of the current system to determine if firearms were confiscated where required. Judges had leeway in court hearings to allow domestic abusers to have guns if, for example, they claimed they were going hunting.

A proposed law that would allow courts to issue gun violence protective orders after a hearing would streamline the process of confiscating firearms from those who’ve threatened violence. The proposed law would help eliminate some of the flaws of the current system.

That bill (HF 1605) is supported by the Minnesota Coalition of Battered Women, but was tabled and left to die in the House Public Safety Committee on a party line vote with Republicans voting against having a hearing on the bill.

It’s clear that the laws set up to confiscate firearms from those convicted of domestic violence or threatening violence are flawed and ineffective.

We urge the Legislature to make changes to ensure victims of domestic violence can feel confident our public safety system will protect them.

___

Minneapolis Star Tribune, March 30

Minnesota Legislature should reject so-called ‘academic balance’ bill

Leading classroom discussions is part and parcel of a teacher’s job - especially for educators dealing with today’s middle- and high-school kids. With so much access to information and social-media outlets, young people are raising their voices on issues ranging from race, gender and sexual orientation to school safety and Second Amendment rights. Teachers and administrators bring their personal views to school, of course, but most know their job is not to impose them on their students.

Some Minnesota lawmakers believe that state regulation is needed to ensure that educators toe that line. Two Republican legislators introduced a measure that would require public and charter schools to adopt “academic balance” policies to limit political expression by school staff.

The bill, SF 2487, would prohibit school employees from having students “express specified social or political viewpoints” for academic credit or extracurricular participation. And it would mandate that students have “access to a broad range of serious opinions pertaining to the subjects of study” because “(p)ublic education courses are not for the purpose of political, ideological, religious, or antireligious indoctrination.”

While we agree that public education should not indoctrinate students, a state mandate could create more issues than it would solve, and there already are sufficient avenues within local school districts to address such problems when they occur.

Calls for state regulation appear to be largely driven by recent events in the Edina schools. An article published in a conservative magazine alleged that liberal, progressive-leaning staff persecuted students with conservative views and attempted to indoctrinate kids. Although some district parents and school leaders felt the piece had no merit, others said it exposed political favoritism by teachers and students. (A shorter version of the magazine piece was published as a Star Tribune commentary.)

Then a dispute about the Edina Young Conservatives Club further fueled political tensions and prompted club members to pursue a lawsuit claiming the district violated their free-speech rights. That case was recently settled.

The Edina controversy was the primary subject of recent testimony during a Senate hearing on the proposed bill. In our view, the measure could have a negative effect on classroom discussions. It could discourage educators from allowing conversation about controversial topics in class even when it is relevant to the subject matter. Absent an absolute definition of what is or is not controversial, teachers may opt out of allowing discussion - and healthy debate - on many issues.

A state mandate could also encourage more frivolous complaints against teachers, according to the Minnesota School Boards Association and the Association of Metropolitan School Districts. They rightly argue that concerns about academic balance are best handled by local districts. The two organizations say they have received few complaints from metro-area or state districts about academic balance, indicating that it is not a major problem in most schools.

Though most teachers understand they must impart information and facilitate discussion without proselytizing, there can be instances where an educator or other school staff members cross the line. In those cases, students or parents can go to their principal, superintendent or school board with complaints. According to state school board and administrator groups, many districts already have policies that caution staff members against imposing personal views on students.

The Edina case demonstrates that problems can be addressed at the local level without a state rule. The parties involved reached a mutually agreeable settlement. And if parents and students think an individual educator is out of line, they can take their concerns to the state board that issues teacher licenses. Any licensed educator agrees to abide by the teacher code of ethics.

There are plenty of safeguards in place to protect students from indoctrination in Minnesota schools. Lawmakers should reject the academic-balance proposal.

___

St. Paul Pioneer Press, March 31

Revitalize Fort Snelling, tell its remarkable stories

The Minnesota Historical Society has wisely made stories the focal point of its plans for a revitalized Historic Fort Snelling.

Stories intersect at this site - in ways they do at few other places - to provide constructive lessons in a state and nation that continue to wrestle with the complexities of our history.

State lawmakers must assure that the stories - including those of native people, enslaved and free African-Americans and Civil War and other soldiers - are told. The society’s request for $30 million to revitalize the fort deserves its place in the final bonding bill that funds public projects.

The request is time-sensitive: It would prepare the site - which includes the state’s oldest structure, the Round Tower, and its oldest residence, the Commandant’s House, designed by its first commander and namesake, Col. Josiah Snelling - for its bicentennial in 2020.

The sweep of history here begins 10,000 years ago at what is a sacred place - Bdote - for the Dakota people. It continues with the stories of Dred and Harriet Scott, African Americans whose residence at Fort Snelling was an issue in their fight for freedom in the courts, one considered an indirect catalyst for the Civil War.

Also included are stories about trade, treaties and military service at this onetime outpost on the nation’s frontier, where troops mustered to fight in the Civil War and into the era of global conflict in World Wars I and II.

Among the World War II-era stories are those of Japanese-Americans, many of whom had been forcibly relocated from the West Coast, who trained at Fort Snelling to gather intelligence that helped end the conflict.

The renovation effort at the fort - positioned at what now is a gateway to St. Paul and the east metro - would replace an outmoded and structurally failing visitor center with new facilities in renovated structures on the site. Also included is space for exhibits and programming, as well as other critical improvements.

Successful private fundraising by the Historical Society lends support to the request for public dollars. The $12 million it raised for the project, director and CEO D. Stephen Elliott told the editorial board, demonstrates Minnesotans’ support, and the depth of their connections to the fort.

Securing the project will be a capstone accomplishment in Elliott’s tenure. The society announced late last year that he will retire June 1 after a career that spans more than 45 years. Elliott came to Minnesota in 2011 after leading the New York State Historical Association and spending 28 years with the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation.

He leaves an “institution positioned for success with strengthened infrastructure, solid funding and a focus on inclusion and service to Minnesotans statewide,” the society said in its announcement, which noted that annual visitation surpassed 1 million for its network of 26 historic sites and museums. In addition, the society has experienced a 25 percent increase in membership in recent years.

Elliott has been a welcome editorial board visitor during his tenure, updating us on the fort, restoration of the Oliver H. Kelley Farm near Elk River and the reconsideration of art treasures at the state Capitol that took place during the building’s recently completed renovation. We’ve appreciated his insights and leadership.

The retirement announcement also outlined a search process for Elliott’s successor and said that an announcement is expected in the spring. As this important St. Paul-based institution prepares for the transition, it’s worth noting that the Historical Society was established by the Territorial Legislature in 1849 as one of its first acts. That reflection of the importance of collecting and preserving the state’s history and using it to inform and enrich our lives today should provide perspective for lawmakers as they weigh priorities.

Bonding bills in 2015 and 2017 provided design funding for the project that helped to keep the effort on schedule. Its completion is contingent on receiving remaining support from the state this year.

It’s time now, Elliott told us, to bring this important project “across the finish line.”

Lawmakers should agree.

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