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Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials

August 31, 2017

Minneapolis Star Tribune, Aug. 29

In high-stakes case, Minnesota Supreme Court has duty to decide

Judges are typically loath to wade into disputes between the executive and legislative branches of government. That reluctance is generally advisable. It helps the courts maintain the reputation for impartiality and independence that public trust requires.

That said, we hope the justices of the Minnesota Supreme Court aren’t looking for a way to avoid the questions raised in the line-item veto lawsuit involving the Legislature and Gov. Mark Dayton, which was the subject of oral arguments on Monday. That case and another on the high court’s docket this fall involving the state auditor’s office present chances to reinforce the constitutional boundaries of a lawmaking process that has lately taken unprecedented and dubious turns.

Never before have observers seen a governor line-item veto the operating budget for the House and Senate, not because the governor deemed that budget too large, but because he wanted to force legislators back to the bargaining table on other matters. Never before have Minnesotans seen a Legislature inject into a spending bill a measure defunding the entire Revenue Department, should the governor veto another bill laden with tax cuts.

Characteristically, the six justices hearing the case involving Dayton’s line-item veto did not tip their hands Monday about how they will rule. Their decision will come “in due course,” Chief Justice Lorie Skjerven Gildea said. The temporary agreement that is keeping legislative paychecks flowing is set to expire on Oct. 1.

The justices’ questions Monday revealed awareness that this case is as much about the role of the courts as it is about gubernatorial and legislative authority. Attorneys for both Dayton and the Legislature said they look to the judicial branch to rescue the state from untenable consequences arising from their budget dispute. “The judiciary is the safety valve,” Dayton attorney Sam Hanson said. The justices countered by voicing unwillingness to become more involved in state taxing and spending decisions. Associate Justice Natalie Hudson fretted about “institutionalizing the situation” in which state budget disputes are resolved by the courts. Gildea noted that the Minnesota Constitution “tells us who has the authority to appropriate money, and it’s not the judiciary.”

True enough. But the judicial branch is the ultimate interpreter of the state Constitution. It alone can determine whether the DFL governor’s unprecedented use of the line-item veto is constitutionally permissible. In the case involving the funding for the state auditor’s office, the courts alone can decide when defunding a constitutionally created state office and/or when bundling policy provisions into a difficult-to-veto spending bill are abuses of the Constitution.

The justices may not like having to rule in two cases that are bound to cast them in a partisan light, no matter how they come down. But for the sake of restoring customary order to a lawmaking process that recently has witnessed power grabs by both the executive and legislative branches, the justices ought not shrink from their duty to decide.

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Rochester Post-Bulletin, Aug. 31

Caregiver shortage is harbinger of things to come

What keeps business leaders in the Rochester area up at night? That they won’t have enough people to do the work.

The competition for well-educated, well-trained workers already is fierce, and it’s only going to get tougher as Destination Medical Center-related growth takes hold.

In the nursing home and senior care field, the future is now. Managers of senior care facilities say they face a critical shortage of workers, and the care those workers provide isn’t optional. Those jobs must be filled.

Robots can’t do what CNAs do. There’s no algorithm or AI device that can help a resident eat, go to the bathroom or take a walk.

As the Post Bulletin reported Saturday, the shortage of caregivers is being driven in part by growth in the business. The demographic “senior tsunami” is coming ashore here and around the country as baby boomers are retiring and moving from single-family homes into residences where care is available.

Every year, about 60,000 more Minnesotans hit the age of 65, and at the other end of the spectrum, young people aren’t entering the workforce fast enough.

“I will tell you, in the 20 years I’ve done this, staffing has been an issue,” Christine Bakke, CEO of Madonna Towers in Rochester, told the PB. “In 20 years, this is the worst I’ve seen it.”

The worker shortage has forced some facilities, such as the Homestead at Rochester, to delay new admissions. At Samaritan Bethany on Eighth, an entire floor of rooms has gone unused because they don’t have enough workers to provide the care.

One issue for caregivers is pay. As the PB reported, the differential in pay for senior care workers and entry level jobs in retail and restaurants is narrower than it used to be. The Legislature made modest changes in reimbursement for nursing homes in 2015 and initiated the Nursing Facility Scholarship Program to help recruit and retain employees, but more is needed. When the average wage for a person providing important personal care to elderly people makes about $14 an hour and the average in retail is not far behind, public and private agencies, including colleges, need to get involved.

Certified nursing assistants and nursing aides provide an important and specialized service. Their jobs require talent, training, energy, plenty of smiles and a big heart. But as a harbinger of things to come, all Rochester area employers should look at what’s happening in the caregiving field and wonder, is this what it’s going to be like for us if the area continues on its current path?

Will we have enough workers? Will our growth and viability be affected?

Will we be prepared for it?

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