AP NEWS

Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials

June 3, 2019

Minneapolis Star Tribune, May 31

No military veteran should be without housing

Minnesota program can serve as a model for other states.

It’s not often you get Minnesota’s diverse congressional delegation to speak with one voice. But all eight House members and both senators did just that recently, urging Congress and the Department of Veterans Affairs to step up efforts to end homelessness among vets.

Many of America’s servicemen and women make a successful transition to civilian life, but not all. According to the National Coalition for Homeless Veterans, there is no one mold that fits those whose struggles at some point leave them homeless. They are men and women, and about half have disabilities or serious mental illness. They can be found in cities, rural areas and yes, suburbs. A majority wrestle with substance abuse. Half of them are over 50.

That’s why U.S. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Tina Smith and Reps. Jim Hagedorn, Angie Craig, Dean Phillips, Betty McCollum, Ilhan Omar, Tom Emmer, Collin Peterson and Pete Stauber have sent a letter to Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie, spotlighting the Minnesota Homeless Veteran Registry and asking whether it might serve as a template for a federal push.

Created in 2014, the registry was the first of its kind in the country. Since then, it has helped house nearly 1,700 veterans across the state, with about 200 still homeless.

Using analytics and a coalition of agencies, the registry finds and tracks homeless vets and connects them to needed services. That’s anything from hooking them up with a hot meal to finding a place to live and getting them treatment. And the registry workers don’t wait for vets to find them. They go to shelters and other places where vets may gather, to reach out with help. Regional groups confer regularly with teams of social workers on every individual in the registry.

As Kathryn Monet, chief executive of the National Coalition told Star Tribune reporter Chris Serres in a story earlier this year, “The intensive, collaborative approach that we have seen in Minnesota is unique — and is a model for the rest of the country.”

Minnesota is not at zero homeless yet. According to Tommy Johnson, the state legislative officer for the District 7 Minnesota VFW, problems remain in the state’s most populous counties of Hennepin and Ramsey. He’d like to see more specific training for housing officials who deal with vets and, specifically, a veterans’ preference on available housing for the homeless.

But the Minnesota approach has had enough success that Neal Loidolt, chief executive of the Minnesota Assistance Council for Veterans, has said that some of the lessons learned in working with homeless veterans are being applied to the broader homeless population.

It’s good to see this state’s congressional delegation banding together to bring a Minnesota solution to a wider stage. After the sacrifices made for their country, no veteran should lack for housing, treatment or whatever other assistance they require to successfully re-enter civilian life.

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St. Cloud Times, May 31

It’s time! Make a law that puts sunshine on Legislature’s final talks

The end of every legislative session provides many lessons for not just legislators and the governor, but the Minnesotans who elect them.

Again this session, the paramount unlearned lesson is the duty of transparency in final negotiations.

For the umpteenth budget-building session in a row, the most important decisions about the public’s money — $48.3 billion worth — were made out of the public’s view, this time by essentially just three elected officials.

Despite promises to the contrary, DFL Gov. Tim Walz, DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Senate Republican Majority Leader Paul Gazelka went behind closed doors for several days only to emerge May 19 with a $48.3 billion, two-year state budget agreement.

From there, while they might have proclaimed 10 conference committees would ultimately decide specifics in the session’s final day and special session, media reports indicate it wasn’t quite that, ahem, transparent.

While those committees held their mandated public hearings, MinnPost reported respective conference chairs met privately with Walz, Hortman and Gazelka as the session moved from its final regular day May 20 toward a one-day special session May 24.

Exactly how much latitude those chairs had to make changes isn’t clear — nor is it the point.

The point is Minnesotans have had enough of closed-door, backroom, insider-only meetings at which a handful of politicians decide what to do with their constituents’ money and then get to walk away claiming victory without providing details as to how those decisions came about.

The public deserves more accountability than that, and the answer is really quite simple: Make the legislative process subject to the same open-meeting and sunshine laws that county commissions, city councils and other public entities must abide by.

Seriously. Make it the law that the Legislature has to operate in the sunshine.

It’s not an unprecedented idea: In 1990, the Legislature passed a law requiring all legislative meetings be open to the public. When a quorum is present and action is likely, House and Senate floor sessions along with meetings of committees, subcommittees, conference committees and legislative commissions are open to the public.

But when the deadline nears and the real deals are being made, darkness falls. Every year.

So 30 years later, it’s time to hold the governor and top legislative leaders to the same standard, not to mention showing the taxpayers who give them billions to spend every year information about how and why they made their decisions.

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Post Bulletin, Rochester, June 3

Drop in dairy farms could mean end of a way of life

The traditional view of rural America is of a red barn, dairy cows grazing in the pasture, and family members working side-by-side.

That slice of nostalgia is getting more and more difficult to conjure up as major changes rock the dairy industry.

Small family dairy farms are apparently on the way out, according to Census of Agriculture figures released in April. But while the number of dairy farms is decreasing, the number of dairy cows is increasing.

For example, in 2002 there were 9.1 million dairy cows in the U.S. In 2017, there were 9.5 million dairy cows.

Meanwhile, the number of dairy farms has decreased from 91,989 in 2001 to 54,599 in 2017.

In other words, fewer farms are milking more cows. Bigger and bigger dairy farms and herds seem to be the future of the industry.

Here in the Midwest, the number of dairy cows in Minnesota has decreased 4.3 percent, while the number of dairy farms has dropped by 44 percent. However, in both Iowa and Wisconsin, the number of cows has increased while the number of farms has decreased, mirroring the nationwide trend.

“It’s definitely a sign of consolidation,” Dave Buck, Goodhue County dairy farmer and president of the Minnesota Milk Producers Association, told Agri News. “And the driving factor of this is economics.”

There is economy in scale in the dairy business. Hence, farms and herds keep getting bigger. Minnesota dairy farms of 50 or more cows have nearly doubled, going from 65 15 years ago to 115 in 2017.

At the same time, medium-size dairy farmers are faced with having to hire farm workers in a tight labor market and with shrinking dairy prices.

Smaller farms can hold on with all family members at work. But, Buck said, too often one adult member of the family has to work off the farm to secure health insurance.

Is it too late to reverse these trends? Immigration reform could ease the labor issue, and an improved health care system would benefit farm families. To attain those and other positive reforms, though, dairy farmers and their organizations need to campaign intelligently at state and national levels of government.

Otherwise, the culture farmers cling to, and the way of life they love, is facing a slow demise. The traditional view of the American farm will be more and more rare.

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