Despite bipartisan support and a close vote in a Minnesota House committee, it appears that Minnesota will have to wait at least another year to restore voting rights to some 63,000 Minnesotans who have been released from incarceration but are still on probation. This goal is high on the list for Growth & Justice and many other groups focused on Minnesota’s economy-crippling racial gaps, and on correction reforms in general. Former Minnesota Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson, a Growth & Justice board member, eloquently summarized the case before a House committee last week. From his prepared text: “Release into society while still under the yoke of probation is the right time to restore the right to vote, especially when that restoration is combined with education on what it means to be a good citizen…Studies show that persons who vote are more likely to be good citizens. Restoration of this fundamental right at the time of release from confinement can become an important part of a felon’s journey to become a responsible citizen… (and it) is an important milepost that defines when the forgiveness process begins.’’ The House Public Safety and Security Policy and Finance Committee tabled the bill on an 8-7 vote, according to a report in the Minnesota Legislature’s Session Daily. But 9 of the 34 sponsors were Republicans and that growing bipartisanship augurs well for future prospects. About 20 states have less restrictive policies than Minnesota, according to a Restore the Vote Coalition fact sheet, and Minnesota now has the 15th highest rate of black disenfranchisement in the nation.
The Trump administration appears determined to slow our nation’s inevitable conversion to renewable energy; the growth of solar energy installations declined last year for the first time since 2010. Minnesota, however, stood out as a major exception, with strong growth continuing, thanks to its community-based, subscriber-funded “solar garden” program, according to a story by MinnPost reporter Ron Meador. Many of the new projects are going up in Greater Minnesota, owing to cheaper land there, and conversion to renewable energy is one of the most promising economic prospects for rural areas. Policies that accelerate a statewide conversion to renewable energy is a new emphasis in our Minnesota Rural Equity Project priorities for the 2018 Legislature.
The Greater Minnesota Partnership, one of our allies in the Minnesota Rural Equity Project, increasingly sees the child care shortage in rural areas as not only a quality-of-life issue, but a crucial impediment to economic development. From the GMNP’s legislative webpage on childcare: “Businesses and communities cannot grow and thrive unless they can attract new employees and residents, but business won’t expand and families are reluctant to take a job if there is no child care available in the area. This is not just a “family” issue, it is also an economic development issue.’’ Growth & Justice joins GMNP in support of three pending bills in the 2018 Legislature that provide about $12 million to help local communities expand local child-care capacity. We also support general efforts to expand the basic child-care subsidy in Minnesota for low-income working parents, known as CCAP (Child Care Assistance Program). Meanwhile, for an inspiring story on how one local community in southeastern Minnesota has been providing high-quality child-care for 30 years through direct support from its public school system, check out this MinnPost story on the pioneering Lanesboro Child Care Center.
“Without child care, rural Minnesota can be a difficult place to choose to live for young families, so (the public school system’s child-care facility) is pretty crucial for us…On the whole, it’s the smartest move Lanesboro has ever made.” Lanesboro Public Schools Superintendent Matt Schultz, in MinnPost story cited above.