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Excerpts from recent Minnesota editorials

October 16, 2017

Minneapolis Star Tribune, Oct. 13

Take the keys away from chronic DWI offenders — permanently

Many Minnesotans were shocked and repulsed to learn that Danny Lee Bettcher, a chronic alcoholic, recently racked up his 28th DWI while in possession of a valid driver’s license — despite 27 previous drunken-driving offenses and nearly a decade in and out of jail.

In some states, Bettcher’s license would have been permanently yanked long ago. But not in Minnesota. Here, the state dutifully reissues licenses again and again to chronic offenders who meet a standard that is not nearly high enough. Bettcher got his driving privileges restored while he was still in prison. He was no longer under state monitoring when he was picked up on Sept. 28, despite his lengthy record. Luckily, an alert bar patron recognized Bettcher, and a dedicated off-duty deputy ensured an arrest.

Driving is a privilege, not a right. Chronic offenders deserve to lose those privileges — permanently. The statistics on drunken driving in this state show that more must be done to crack down on those who are irresponsible enough to drink and drive. Start with the fact that 1 in every 7 Minnesota drivers has had a DWI. Law enforcement nabbed 25,000 drivers for drunken driving in 2015 — a rate of about 69 per day. Nearly 600 Minnesota drivers have four convictions — the fourth is a felony. Half that number has more than five convictions. Drunken driving crashes took 95 lives in 2015 and injured more than 2,000.

Some legislators are ready to crack down on chronic offenders, and they deserve support. Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, a member of the House Public Safety and Security Policy Committee, has said he’s ready to explore a lifetime ban. Rep. Dario Anselmo, R-Edina, said that after reading the Star Tribune’s story on Bettcher, he will introduce legislation that would revoke driving privileges for life after a fifth conviction, modeled after a law in Oregon.

No one should underestimate the crippling hold addiction has over many. There should be compassion for that struggle and help with treatment. But that generosity cannot extend to jeopardizing innocent lives that are ended or irrevocably changed because some choose to drink and drive. “Someone’s privilege does not override someone else’s right to safety and life,” Anselmo said. “The days of umpteen chances should be over in this state.”

Minnesota has long had an uneasy relationship with alcohol. It restricts the sale of liquor more than many states — not until this year did it permit Sunday sales. But for years it also was loath to get tough on drunken driving. Minnesota was the last state in the nation to adopt the federally mandated lower 0.08 blood alcohol standard in 2005, and then only because federal highway funds were at risk. To their credit, lawmakers have toughened laws since then, but a provision aimed at chronic offenders is overdue.

Oregon’s law contains an important provision — the right to petition for reinstatement, but only after 10 years and only if individuals can show they’ve completed treatment, stayed sober and proved they are no longer a threat to public safety.

That’s a reasonable standard that offers a powerful incentive to offenders while helping to safeguard potential victims. By the time Bettcher was stopped, he had already blown through a stop sign and was swerving along the highway — a menace with a license. That’s wrong.

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St. Cloud Times, Oct. 14

Death of retail, as other industries, is greatly exaggerated

When an iconic fixture of any landscape falls, it shakes confidence.

Last week, it was the news broken by St. Cloud Times reporters that St. Cloud’s Sears store — a fixture here since 1928 — would be gone in a matter of months.

After almost 90 years on our landscape, Sears will soon be over.

Chatter started quickly in some quarters about what it all means. Of late, the trendy term “retail apocalypse” is invoked under such circumstances, calling into question the future of malls and downtowns everywhere.

But are store closures and bankruptcies in a handful of retailers really another sign that stores are going the way of the dodo? Or is it simply a symptom of another industry in the throes of creative disruption?

Despite the current penchant for labeling changes in bricks-and-mortar retailing as an “apocalypse,” signs point to the latter. And so we need to do more than stand by and watch. We need to plan for what’s next.

For the record, creative disruption is a term describing the entry of a new force into an established system. That force generally improves conditions or outcomes overall, even though it will disrupt or destroy some portions of the system.

We in the news business know a lot about creative disruption. So do those who invented streaming and satellite services that have turned the cable industry on its head, those who install landline phones, and those who thought selling airplane tickets on the internet would be interesting, just to name a tiny few of the businesses that have been utterly transformed in the past 25 years.

Sears’ corporate struggles and imminent local demise are symptoms of, among other things, the disruption brought forth by e-commerce. If you love Sears and the products it sells, that disruption is troubling. If you love shopping on your couch at 2 a.m. for cutting-edge products and having those items delivered to your door, it’s no big deal.

But those who are interested in the bigger picture have more to consider when major retailers fold their tents.

Leaders in government and business are charged with looking into the future and making educated guesses about what types of ventures can — and more importantly, should — be courted to take their place. They are also responsible for being ready for what comes next.

In the short term, filling the gap will always take precedent. In the long term, where should we be headed, knowing that creative disruption will continue, well, forever?

How will self-driving vehicles change retailing, for instance? One industry watcher writing in The Atlantic conjures up visions of a driverless pharmacy van patrolling your neighborhood, ready to be summoned by smartphone when you really, really need a Band-Aid.

How will “intelligent” personal assistants like Alexa and Echo make their mark on shopping?

What types of products — diamond rings, camping gear, paint, antiques — will most consumers of the future always want to see and touch before they buy?

And what kind of experience will people want when they “go shopping” outside their homes 20 years from now? Fifty years from now? Will the communal experience of malls be attractive? The boutiques of a downtown? Something completely different?

The answers have broad public policy implications, particularly for zoning and transportation, jobs and taxes.

We have to fill the gaps, while also trying to be ready for the future.

Ultimately, the retail industry is changing. But like travel agents and news outlets, stores to shop in won’t end. They will evolve, just as they should. Communities need to be ready.

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Mankato Free Press, Oct. 14

School discipline: Move from punishment to engagement

The new school discipline policies adopted by St. Peter and Mankato schools — and others in Minnesota — appear to be yielding results that will create better learning environments and will help troubled students succeed.

Some will read today’s in-depth report on school discipline and think of terms like “coddling” and phrases like “zero tolerance.” But if one looks deeper and considers the issues today’s children face as they enter the schoolhouse door, there’s much to be appreciated about the changes in school discipline.

Taxpayers benefit because more students are getting educated. They’re in the classroom, not sitting in detention or out of school where more trouble lurks. Communities benefit because fairer discipline results in every student having a chance to succeed.

St. Peter, Mankato and many other school districts in Minnesota several years ago went away from a strictly punitive discipline strategy and moved to a strategy that is designed to find out why students are behaving badly and give them tools to change their behavior.

The new strategy — called Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports or PBIS — also relies on teachers, principals and superintendents building relationships with students and their parents that create the trust needed for communication on behaviors.

Plenty of roadblocks and hurdles remain. Studies still show that white teachers will discipline students of color for insubordination more often than they do white students. And new policies not carried out uniformly may actually make discipline problems worse if one group feels it is discriminated against.

But the techniques of PBIS should mitigate some uneven enforcement that comes with any new policy.

PBIS calls on teachers to articulate five positive acknowledgements to misbehaving students for every one critical point. Schools also gather data on discipline cases that help them compare the behavior of different students. St. Peter, for example, quantifies behavior problems into “major” and “minor” categories, perhaps helping teachers see through possible racial biases.

PBIS also puts the burden on teachers to not only teach history and math but to teach behavior. That’s something that wasn’t required even a decade ago.

St. Peter Superintendent Paul Peterson describes it as managing students to “improve their lives,” and “grow as people.”

In the end, that’s what education is all about.

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