Editorial Roundup: Minnesota – Star Tribune


Minneapolis Star Tribune. April 17, 2022.
Editorial: A complex fix for a crack in the justice system
“Competency restoration” is hard but necessary. Legislative teamwork on it is commendable.
Expect to hear a lot about public safety during the coming fall election.
On the ballot: both chambers of the Minnesota Legislature, the governor’s office and the state attorney general. Rising crime rates in the metro and beyond have already made this issue a campaign centerpiece for Republicans and DFLers. The rhetoric will only intensify as Nov. 8 draws close.
The fate of one mostly under-the-radar but critical criminal justice reform at the State Capitol this session will help voters separate out the candidates willing to put in the hard work necessary for meaningful improvements from those who are not. That’s why bills HF 2725 in the Minnesota House and its Senate companion, SF 3395, bear close attention as lawmakers return from break.
This package of reforms merits passage because it puts forward sensible remedies to fill in a foundational crack in the justice system involving “competency restoration.” A 2021 legislative task force report explains:
“People who have been charged with crimes have a constitutional and statutory right not to be tried if a judge determines they are incapable of understanding the proceedings or participating in their defense due to a mental illness or cognitive impairment. When a person is found incompetent, the prosecution of the criminal charges must wait until the person becomes competent or the charges are dismissed.”
The crack in the system occurs when the charges are delayed or are dismissed. There should be clear pathways for “restoration” — meaning these citizens get access to the medical care, education and resources they so clearly need. But Minnesota and many other states have long lacked the detailed legal framework to make sure this happens.
Instead, the person found incompetent “must be referred for possible civil commitment.” Some meet this threshold and some don’t because there’s mismatch between the thresholds for civil commitment (basically, holding someone in a treatment facility) and for competency to stand trial.
Those who aren’t civilly committed may be left on their own to voluntarily seek treatment. Nothing in law requires them to do so. Nor does the law require “any state agency or local unit of government to provide treatment for competency restoration,” the task force stated.
The consequences can include ongoing struggles with illness, finance, housing — circumstances in which these citizens become crime victims themselves. Or, reoffend. A KARE-11 series on competency raised troubling questions about whether this gap allowed the man charged with 2021 mass shooting at a Buffalo, Minn., clinic to acquire a gun.
The public interest in prevention is compelling. How many Minnesotans fall through the competency crack? The state chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) analyzed state courts data. It estimates “1,800 cases with a finding of incompetent across all charges in 2021 (827 felonies, 232 gross misdemeanors, 740 misdemeanors) … if an average of 40% of those were committed, 60% would be gap cases and that’s about 1,080 people in one year.” A caveat: “A single individual could be found incompetent more than once, so the number of findings could be (and probably is) higher than the number of people.”
The proposed legislative fixes provide the legal framework that the state currently lacks. The package notably also includes a new team of “forensic navigators” who would work across the state to actively steer those in need of restoration to the care they need.
The reforms are result of several years of task force work. Its members include representatives from NAMI, the Minnesota County Attorneys Association, the court system, medical providers as well as crime victim advocates.
That the legislative advocates are bipartisan inspires confidence in state lawmakers’ ability to rise above politics and do hard things. Competency restoration is complex, and it aids those too often “in the shadows,” as Rep. Tony Albright, R-Prior Lake, puts it. Advocates include Rep. Heather Edelson, DFL-Edina, Sen. David Senjem, R-Rochester, and Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka.
The fixes come with a serious price tag — about $116 million for 2024-25 biennium, a fiscal note estimates. Advocates, however, dispute that and say additional information could lower the cost.
Attempts to fix this on the cheap should be rejected. A troubling crack in the justice system is a serious issue, one requiring comprehensive solutions. Legislators should embrace the excellent work done by the task force and pass reforms reflecting its recommendations.
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St. Cloud Times. April 17, 2022.
Editorial: We have a make-or-break summer on our hands
As runners prepared for the return of St. Cloud’s Earth Day Half Marathon, their training was undoubtedly focused on endurance, strength and stamina.
Those three qualities will be demonstrated all summer long by die-hard organizers of the events that enrich the quality of life and community in Central Minnesota.
The return of the Earth Day Run events symbolically marks a long-awaited return of large-scale community events after more than two years of stop-and-start uncertainty. As COVID-19 surged and waned in waves, organizers and sponsors of festivals, runs, concerts, performances, awards programs and parades were adrift. Should we or shouldn’t we go ahead? Are we even allowed to? How do we keep people safe? Will anyone come?
And even: Why do we do this? Is it time to move on to other priorities?
Any break in momentum or forced scaling back provides fertile ground for re-evaluation. When it comes to large-scale endeavors, usually run either by volunteers or companies stretching their staffs and resources to stage an event for the community, a pause is always a chance to reflect: “Is this worth it? Is it time to let this go, or keep going?”
Every decision to “keep going” will be obvious this summer. The parish festivals and parades, food fests and awards programs, races and concerts and golf scrambles are all concrete evidence that the people who had a chance to back out, didn’t. They decided to keep doing the mountains of work, despite what no one says out loud: It’s always harder to restart or rebuild a project after a hiatus or retrenchment than to keep it going in an annual rhythm.
The small bands of people who stage the events we all missed took conscious, deep breaths to keep doing all of the (usually thankless) work because they believe in community. They have been recruiting new team members to fill vacancies wrought by the break. They are trying to make budgets work and get sponsors on board after a year or two “off”. They’re trying to remember how they used to handle Challenge A or Detail B. And all of the vendors and organizations they partner with are doing the same.
In other words, as hard as it is in the best of times to stage the events that make a community, it’s harder this year. Much harder.
And that is why this year, showing up matters. Volunteering to help is the obvious response. Donating money or in-kind goods matters more than ever to help stretch dollars.
But showing up? Do that, even if you do nothing else. Line that parade route. Go see that free concert. Sign up for the charity 5K. Play in the golf scramble or fishing tournament. Show that it matters to you, because this is a make-or-break year for some of our community’s special events.
As we all try to make up for lost time, lost travels and lost gatherings, remember to support Central Minnesota’s signature events. Because this summer’s success or failure will cement those decisions to keep going, or end the efforts.
See you there.
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Mankato Free Press. April 19, 2022.
Editorial: Paddling sports wonderful, but training necessary
One of the silver linings of the pandemic was that more people connected or reconnected with the outdoors.
Bicycling, simple walks, gardening, visits to parks, bird watching and other outdoor pursuits surged.
Paddlesports was no exception. A record 38 million people took to lakes and rivers to kayak, canoe and use stand-up paddleboards in 2020, according to the latest data from the Outdoor Foundation.
The number includes 2.5 million paddlers who were new to the sports.
But the increase also brought a surge in accidents. There were 331 accidents and 202 fatalities, also a record. Paddling deaths accounted for about one-quarter of all boating fatalities in 2020.
The U.S. Coast Guard said virtually all of the fatalities were among less experienced paddlers: 75% had less than 100 hours experience in the activity and 39% had less than 10 hours experience.
Most accidents happen in flatwater due to falling overboard or capsizing. Untrained paddlers usually don’t know how to get back in once they’ve fallen out, aren’t wearing a life jacket and aren’t prepared for cold water exposure.
The increase in motorized boat and jet ski traffic and ever larger boats, including wakeboarding boats that create massive waves, only increases the risks of capsizing.
Those taking up paddle sports or who have little experience can protect themselves by taking advantage of the many free or inexpensive safety training resources, including many online safety training programs.
Paddlers also need to remember they are subject to boating rules that require them to obey navigation rules and carry the required safety equipment for their size and type of vessel.
Experts say paddlers can also minimize risk by wearing a lifejacket, dressing appropriately for the weather conditions, checking weather forecasts and paddling sober.
There are, of course, risks to taking to the water. But paddling is a wonderful experience that is accessible and inexpensive. It’s easy to get your craft to the water, no license required and great exercise is involved.
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