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Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials

December 26, 2018

Minneapolis Star Tribune, Dec. 21

Reports offer a good start in fixing sex assault investigations in Minnesota

Rape cases are poorly handled by law enforcement across the state.

Comprehensive recommendations from a pair of recent studies are steps in the right direction toward correcting Minnesota law enforcement’s shameful handling of sexual assault cases. The reports included proposals for much-needed legislative, policy and procedural changes.

The suggested policies were produced in response to the ongoing Star Tribune news series “Denied Justice.” As part of the newspaper’s groundbreaking investigation, more than 1,000 sexual assault cases were reviewed from the 20 state law enforcement agencies that reported the most sexual assaults in 2015 and 2016.

Reporters found that in too many cases, police failed to gather evidence, interview witnesses or even assign detectives. And 75 percent of cases were never forwarded to prosecutors to pursue criminal charges and justice for victims. While the highest number of cases were in the Twin Cities, the analysis found that the problem is pervasive in law enforcement across Minnesota.

One set of proposed reforms, issued by a committee of the Minnesota Peace Officers Standards and Training Board (POST), calls for strict new rules and procedures for state cops, including more careful interviewing of victims, specific ways to conduct investigations, and incorporating victim advocates in the investigations.

POST is the state agency that sets standards for and licenses state officers. If passed by its full board, the sexual assault policy guidelines could be sent to all of Minnesota’s 400-plus law enforcement agencies as soon as next month.

The second study group was convened by Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson. That wide-ranging task force report wisely provided recommendations not only to law enforcement and POST, but also to the Legislature and prosecutors. It suggests that the Legislature require law enforcement agencies to have in place written sexual assault policies, provide trauma-informed training and make it easier to report assaults.

The attorney general’s report also addressed the issue of alcohol use and consent. It urges lawmakers to consider revising state law to make it easier to prosecute cases in which a victim is awake but too intoxicated to consent to sex. And it suggests that victims not be charged with alcohol-related offenses when they report being assaulted.

“Victim-survivors face enormous barriers to making sexual assault reports,” the analysis found. “Punishing victim-survivors for such low-level offenses needlessly exacerbates the problem.”

The proposed policy menu rightly calls for changing the way sexual assault victims are treated by cops by addressing the culture that nurtures dismissive attitudes. That was one of the major failures “Denied Justice” revealed: Too many of those who report being attacked said they weren’t taken seriously and often felt re-victimized by the officers who were supposed to help them.

Both study groups suggested additional training for cops. That’s critical, although as the Star Tribune Editorial Board has said previously, training alone might not be enough. Sensitivity training and other education efforts geared toward handling sexual assault cases can help those officers who want to improve. But for those who can’t or won’t change, there must be consequences.

Those women who courageously report sexual assault to police deserve better treatment from law enforcement — and ultimately they should receive justice. Recommendations from the two studies can help the Legislature and law enforcement meet those goals.

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The Free Press of Mankato, Dec. 20

Xcel: The market is leaving carbon behind

Why it matters: Minnesota’s largest electric utility intends to end all carbon emissions by 2050.

Carbon free by 2050.

That’s the ambitious, if obviously long-term, goal announced earlier this month by Xcel Energy, which is based in Minneapolis and has electric generation operations in and around Mankato.

2050 is a long time from now; the Xcel leaders who set that goal won’t be running the corporation by then. They may not be running the show in 2030, when the goal is to have cut carbon emissions by 80 percent from 2005 levels. So we can take this goal with a grain of salt.

But the intent is serious, and the reasoning real. Xcel, which has 3.6 million electric customers in eight states, is the first major electric utility to set a no-emissions goal. It won’t be the last.

This is the future of American electricity. The Trump administration, unfortunately, remains handcuffed to the past. Around the time Xcel set its no-carbon pledge, the Environmental Protection Agency continued to make a mockery of its name and mission by announcing plans to roll back Obama-era restrictions on emissions from new coal-burning plants.

The silver lining to that soot-laden cloud: Nobody’s building coal burners anymore, and removing emission restrictions isn’t going to change that. Coal is more expensive a fuel than natural gas, and even utilities that haven’t moved as aggressively as Xcel has into wind and solar power are shuttering coal burners and shifting to the cleaner-burning fuel. It’s not the regulations, it’s the market.

Even so, getting from here to where Xcel wants to be some 30 years from now won’t be simple. Xcel says the necessary technology is not now commercially viable. Getting to zero, the utility says, will require both keeping its two nuclear generators in Minnesota (at Red Wing and Monticello) online longer than previously planned and a means of capturing carbon before it is emitted.

Not simple, not immediate — but it’s a worthy goal and it’s realistic. Xcel, and the broader electrical industry, is looking to the future. Let us hope it comes quickly enough to make a difference in our looming climate disaster.

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The Journal of New Ulm, Dec. 23

Justice reform makes sense

For far too many years, “getting tough on crime” in America meant passing laws that would put more people in jail for longer sentences for less serious offenses. “Lock ’em up and throw away the key!” ″Three strikes and you’re out!” Judges were barred from using judgment when it came to sentencing, with laws that took away their discretion.

As a result, American jails and prisons have been filled to capacity for a long time. Those inside have not been getting the education, services and programs to help them become better people, and when they get out they lack support to stay on the straight and narrow. So they re-offend, getting locked up for longer and harsher sentences.

This past week Congress passed a bipartisan criminal justice reform bill, and President Trump gladly signed it on Friday.

The bill’s aim is to ease sentences for non-violent offenders, reduce the number of repeat offenders and provide more prison rehabilitation programs.

This isn’t going to solve the issues involved with crime and punishment in America, but it’s a good start. It’s better to spend money on rehabilitating criminals than to spend it on building more and bigger prisons to hold all the people we have been sending there to show how tough we are on crime.

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