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Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials

August 5, 2019

Minneapolis Star Tribune, Aug. 2

Minneapolis Foundation environmental grants will help lower-income communities

When discussions of society’s “gaps” arise, thoughts go to well-documented education outcomes between white students and students of color. But there are also major disparities when it comes to pollution and climate change.

That’s why pending projects that address environmental disparities matter and merit support. Last week, the Minneapolis Foundation announced that three organizations will receive nearly $70,000 for projects that include electric car-sharing, promotion of clean-energy sources and energy audits. The efforts can help low-income communities save money on energy costs, clean up the environment and involve the younger generation in improving neighborhood health and safety.

Through the grant program, Hourcar will receive $25,000 to work with Xcel Energy and Minneapolis and St. Paul on a new electric car-sharing program. The effort will involve 150 electric cars in the Twin Cities, half of which will be placed in lower-income areas such as north Minneapolis. Access to vehicles will provide transportation for many who cannot afford cars, and using them will reduce air pollution. Research shows that poorer people of color have disproportionately higher pollution-related health problems.

Minnesota Interfaith Power & Light will use a $17,500 grant for a youth- led environmental justice project. Young people from several congregations will be paid to conduct energy audits, shadow energy assessors and develop plans to increase energy efficiency at Shiloh Temple International Ministries and a mosque, Masjid An-Nur, in north Minneapolis. The two congregations and 26 nearby homes already share a group of solar panels.

And MN Renewable Now will use $25,000 to promote clean energy alternatives (including upgrading heating and cooling systems) in north Minneapolis. That can help reduce stress on household budgets by lowering utility bills for residents.

The welcome initiatives were made possible through the Minneapolis Foundation’s Climate Action and Racial Equity Fund — an effort designed to reduce greenhouse gases and address racial inequities. The McKnight Foundation contributed $100,000 to the fund, and another $22,000 came from the Xcel Energy Foundation and other contributors. A second group of grantees will be announced in November.

Too often, low-income communities are not economically able to make the initial investments in energy efficient, pollution-reducing projects. That’s why these relatively small nonprofit grants can have a big long-term impact. The funds will help jump start environmentally sound practices that can narrow health and other gaps.

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The Free Press of Mankato, Aug. 4

Transparency: Subject Legislature to data practices law

For too long, the leading institution of representative democracy in Minnesota has escaped the disinfectant of sunshine.

The Legislature has never been subject to the Minnesota Data Practices Act, but in a rare move Gov. Tim Walz is now advocating the most powerful body in Minnesota government should be more transparent. He has proposed the Legislature, like the executive branch and counties, cities and schools, become more transparent by making itself subject to the rules of openness and good government that the Data Practices Act offers.

It’s troubling that GOP Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka opposes the transparency that Walz’s proposal would bring.

But this is not a partisan issue. Former GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty told The Free Press last year he also favors subjecting the Legislature to the Data Practices Act.

In fact, a survey of legislators before last year’s election showed 37 DFL and six Republican candidates or incumbents favored applying the open records laws to the Legislature.

Eighty-four DFL and 80 GOP candidates or incumbents did not answer the questions of the survey at all. We hope that is not an indication that their enthusiasm for such transparency is somewhat lacking.

Among area legislators, DFLer Rep. John Considine, Mankato, and Republican Jeremy Munson, Lake Crystal, said they favored applying the law to the Legislature, while GOP Rep. John Petersburg of Waseca said he was undecided. The rest of the area representatives did not complete the survey.

The survey was sent to all candidates for the Legislature and executive branches by the Minnesota Coalition on Government Information, which has long advocated for this law and other laws that increase government transparency in Minnesota. The questionnaire was supported by the Minnesota Society of Professional Journalists. (Full disclosure: Free Press Editor Joe Spear is past president of the organization).

It’s notable that Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison also supported the change.

Walz sent a letter to Gazelka recently saying he welcomes discussion of the issue during the next legislative session. But Gazelka later told the Star Tribune that he doesn’t recall agreeing to discuss that issue and opposes the proposal.

Gazelka and Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, argue that subjecting the Legislature to the Data Practices Act would threaten the privacy of constituent communications, arguing constituents write letters about very sensitive topics like drug abuse and sexual assault.

But that argument is a red herring. The Data Practices Act already designates such communications as confidential.

Both sides have in the past offered proposals that would make the dealings of the Legislature more transparent, but it’s been rare that a governor has supported that. Now it’s time to move forward with this good government proposal to make the Legislature’s business more transparent.

The information subject to disclosure would include complaints against legislators and investigations involving their conduct. These kind of disclosures are already required of the vast majority of state agencies, cities, counties and schools.

It’s time the Legislature get on board. We urge Walz to push for the changes and we urge all legislators to embrace them to create transparency in the most powerful body in Minnesota.

Candidate and legislator positions on transparency through the MNCOGI survey can be found here: http://tinyurl.com/y5wqhnrn .

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St. Cloud times, Aug. 2

It’s time to commit to securing U.S. elections

“Moscow Mitch,” the “Russian asset.”

In this Donald Trump-led era of personal attacks and political incivility, those labels are being generously applied to U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

National media reports indicate the Kentucky Republican is quite bothered by them, even rebutting them on the Senate floor.

In a word — good. McConnell should be bothered.

He blocked two election security measures from possible Senate passage literally the day after the nation heard former special counsel Robert Mueller testify that Russia is already trying to impact the 2020 elections.

FBI Director Christopher Wray delivered that same basic message the day before Mueller spoke, and a Senate Intelligence Committee report that week also noted how Russia essentially tried to hack the elections systems in all 50 states in 2016.

Clearly, America’s election system still faces serious threats.

It’s frustrating the majority leader of the U.S. Senate won’t engage in addressing them despite key leaders and experts within the Trump administration warning of potential peril.

The lone bit of good news? The knowledge to secure our elections exists, and smart people are working on keeping ahead of the developments that are inevitably ahead.

For example, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon recently traveled the state to explain how his office will use about $6.6 million in federal funds to secure the state’s election system.

In addition to hiring a cyber-security expert who will work with all counties, his long-range goal is to update the state’s voter registration system. It launched in 2004, the same year Facebook started and cell (read flip) phones started boasting of 1-megapixel cameras.

In fact, the Brennan Center for Justice released a bipartisan report in July that pointed out about 40 states face similar challenges.

The center also noted that while Congress and the president provided $380 million to states to fix their biggest problems after 2016, virtually all states have used that money and are now lacking the funds needed to make already-identified changes that could help fend off potential foreign threats.

Here is just one shining example: The center says 11 states are using completely paperless balloting, which makes those systems especially vulnerable to hacking. In fact, having a paper ballot — something once seen as outdated — is gaining ground as the key to securing America’s election results.

Yet McConnell does not want the U.S. Senate to examine such solutions.

Sorry, senator, America needs a commitment to do what’s right for the very foundation of a democracy. And it needs that commitment now. Every eligible vote must be counted to make sure this nation’s enemies — within and beyond our borders — don’t take control.

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