Minneapolis Star Tribune. March 24, 2021.

Editorial: Immigrants boost Minnesota's economy

They work, spend money, pay taxes and help fill demographic gaps, chamber finds.

The Minnesota Chamber Foundation is out with a much-needed report on the many contributions of immigrants, detailing the critical role they play both in this state's present and its future.

Immigrants have helped offset declining birthrates in Minnesota and have provided critical work in agriculture, health care, food manufacturing and elsewhere, the report notes. They play an outsized role in the labor force, since more of them tend to be in their prime work years.

The demographic shift in Minnesota's immigrant population over the last 30 years has been dramatic, with a 300% rise. In 1990, immigrants made up 2.6% of the state's population. That figure is now 8.5%. In the metro area, it's higher: 3.8% in 1990, compared to 10.5% today. The foundation argues, convincingly, that the increase has been a net benefit to the state.

According to census data, more than 80% of Minnesota's immigrant population are of working age, compared to only 60% of the state's native-born population. Collectively, the report found, immigrant purchasing power amounts to more than $12 billion a year in Minnesota — double what it was just seven years ago. Minnesota immigrants in 2019 paid $4.5 billion in taxes, including $2 billion in state and local taxes. They also have a higher rate of workforce participation than native-born residents.

The report was based on pre-pandemic data. It is impossible to fully determine the long-range impact of the pandemic on the state's economy, but the report identified two key barriers to future growth: tight labor markets and a rising scarcity of workers.

Bill Blazar, retired from the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, helped edit the report and has been a tireless advocate of immigration reform. "I scratch my head and wonder why this is such a challenging issue," Blazar told an editorial writer. "I'm just a former chamber guy who looks at the economic equation, and having a functional, modern immigration system really is a no-brainer."

Even given the pandemic, he said, "Minnesota's demographics make a compelling argument for an up-to-date immigration system in tune with the economy. We need people. They're not moving here from North Dakota and Iowa anymore. They're mostly coming from outside the U.S."

He points to operations such as Andersen Windows and Marvin Windows, both looking to add workers. Andersen, which hopes to hire 1,000 people, is offering some benefits specifically designed to appeal to immigrants. In addition to higher wages, health benefits and on-the-job training, it's offering English language classes, foot-washing stations and prayer rooms designed to appeal to Muslims, along with floating holidays. "They get it," Blazar said. "They understand diversity and recognize the quality of these workers. They know Minnesota's economy can't grow without them."

Now, he said, immigrants need a government that recognizes their value. Exasperated at the long road to comprehensive immigration reform, Blazar said he now sees the piecemeal approach as best. Two important provisions just passed the U.S. House with bipartisan support, he pointed out — a path to citizenship for those brought to the U.S. as children and an agricultural workforce provision that would give temporary legal status to some unauthorized immigrant farmworkers, with a chance at permanent status.

The best way to overcome objections, he said, is with facts: that immigrants are far from a drag on this state and nation's economy. They are a net gain, with measurable contributions.

___

St. Cloud Times. March 26, 2021.

Editorial: Proposed early-release bill smacks of common sense

Everyone wants to be safe. That's why countless elections have been won or lost based on the public's perception of the candidate as "tough on crime."

And voters aren't satisfied to take a candidate's word for it. They want to hear a plan. (That's a truly commendable instinct that should be extended to fiscal claims as well). And for decades, those plans have generally been to up the ante on punishment of offenders.

First, because "lock 'em up" is a simple concept to articulate in a short stump speech. Second, because that solution is easier than providing mental health care, quality early childhood programs, solid K-12 education even in "bad" neighborhoods, affordable child care for working parents, drug treatment, diversion programs for at-risk youth, career training for low-level offenders and living wages.

Easier, although often not cheaper in the long run.

The result of this long tough-on-crime era has been this nation's disastrous and inequitable long-term prison sentences for relatively minor drug crimes, and three-strikes laws and mandatory minimums that leave little leeway for judges and prosecutors to adjust the punishment to fit the crime.

A bill introduced in the Minnesota House of Representatives this month by 42B Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, DFL-Roseville, just might point the way out of this quagmire —without compromising safety and while saving the state a considerable amount of tax money.

HF 2349/SF2295, the Minnesota Rehabilitation and Reinvestment Act, would align Minnesota with more than 30 other states where imprisoned people can earn their way to shorter prison sentences.

It would work like this: All offenders would be individually assessed upon intake to the state's corrections system. A plan is created with measurable goals and outcomes that can include substance abuse rehabilitation, training or other goals. If the offender meets them, their prison term or their time on supervised release is reduced by up to 17%.

The program is not for every offender. As the bill is written now, people convicted of first-, second- or third-degree murder would not be candidates, nor would anyone committing a crime for the benefit of a gang. People convicted of first-, second- or third-degree sex crimes with force would be ineligible, as would dangerous sex offenders, anyone who committed first-degree assault, anyone who used a firearm or other deadly weapon in some crimes, or anyone who attacks a police officer, corrections officer, judge or prosecutor. No one sentenced to life in prison will be able to earn a break.

One of the most encouraging facets of the proposal is who would be keeping watch to make sure things go well. The bill mandates the participation of a wide range of stakeholders to set the standards for earning early-release credits and, notably, to receive and review annual reports on the program's performance once implemented. The bill sagely demands accountability for equity of implementation among offenders of different races, ethnicities and genders.

Who are those stakeholders? The bill demands that the commissioner of corrections work with the Minnesota County​ Attorney's Association, the Minnesota Board of Public Defense, the Minnesota Association of​ Community Corrections Act Counties, Minnesota Indian Women's Sexual Assault Coalition,​ Violence-Free Minnesota, Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault, Minnesota Alliance​ on Crime, the Minnesota Sheriff's Association, Minnesota Chiefs of Police Association, and the Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association to establish the policy. Victims, too, will be involved in the process.

A similar, small-scale program here in Minnesota called the Challenge Incarceration Program already allows some offenders to earn early release. It has shown that such incentives work. And a similar Missouri program reduced its prison population by 18% in the first three years with no rise in recidivism, according the the DOC.

If those results could be replicated in Minnesota, there's little downside and the upside is substantial: Minnesota taxpayers could save $10 million per year when it is fully implemented, according to a DOC estimate — or $38 per person, per day of earned early release.

And then there are the less-measurable, but even more valuable advantages: Some offenders will come out of the system having built skills to reach goals and with better tools to turn their lives in a productive direction — another step toward safety for all of us. Some kids will spend less time visiting a parent behind prison walls. And people working toward early release are more likely to reconsider the impulses that endanger corrections officers, prison staff and fellow offenders.

The money saved by housing offenders for shorter periods of time would, backers say, go to victim support services, crime prevention, community-based correctional programs and the state's general fund. We would advocate putting some of it toward resolving the state's admitted $612 million maintenance backlog at state correctional facilities as well.

This bill smacks of common sense after long-term oversimplification of crime control has made an American citizen the most likely person in the world to be imprisoned — more likely to be an inmate than citizens of Russia, China, El Salvador, Rwanda or Cuba. We can do better.

___

Mankato Free Press. March 27, 2021.

Editorial: Munson wasting taxpayer money

Thumbs down to Rep. Jeremy Munson, of Lake Crystal, for wasting taxpayer money developing and pursuing a bizarre plan to allow Minnesota counties to secede from Minnesota and join South Dakota or other border states.

The proposal doesn't deserve airing or any serious consideration because it is so outside the bounds of rational thought. Munson's plan calls for a Minnesota Constitutional Amendment and also involves approval from county boards, the Legislature, Congress and voters.

Munson and a handful of his co-extremists formed their own "New" Republican caucus in Minnesota a few years ago. The legitimate Republican Party, the one Munson left, had no comment on Munson's secession legislation, but noted none of its members have sponsored the legislation.

Munson's action that is mostly aimed at getting likes and retweets on social media stands as another example of how he is wasting taxpayer money, getting little or nothing done for his constituents and catering to the fringe elements of political groups that have no interest in sound, representative government.

Munson did not answer emailed questions asking how much time and money he, staff or others spent on developing the legislation and how much it cost taxpayers. He responded by pointing to efforts by a group in Oregon looking to join Idaho, and that he has introduced 11 bills on constituent issues and had hearings on five of them.

Whatever time he spent on the secession issue was time wasted and could have been better spent on constituent issues.

Gender-pay disparities

Thumbs down to still having to draw attention to gender-pay disparities with an Equal Pay Day.

The day was observed this week as it is annually, marking the fact women are generally paid less than men — more drastically the case for women of color. The day marks the extra time it takes an average woman in the U.S. to earn the same pay that their male counterpart made the previous calendar year.

During a House Oversight Committee hearing this week on the pay-gap issue, the ranking member of the panel, Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., noted that since the start of the pandemic, nearly 1 million more women have lost their jobs compared to men and that women account for more than half of the overall net job loss in the country.

Pandemic or not, Congress and state legislatures need to take action to make the gender pay gap a thing of the past.

Unbelievable defense

Thumbs down to Sidney Powell, a former Donald Trump lawyer, for her stupefying defense strategy.

Powell repeatedly peddled unfounded claims of voter fraud on television and in court, asserting that the Democratic Party stole the election using the Dominion Voting Systems.

Dominion filed a $1.3 billion defamation suit against her as it tries to undo damage to its reputation. (Dominion has also filed suit against Minnesota My Pillow maker Mike Lindell for making the same claims.)

Powell entered an astonishing defense: that her statements can't be defamation because no reasonable person would have believed them.

It's a telling defense. She's in essence arguing that so much of what was spewed by Trump and his supporters were such obvious big lies that they were on their face unbelievable.

The defense is legally worthless, however. She asserted the statements repeatedly as fact and a large swath of Trump supporters believed her, and many still do.

A shot in the arm

Thumbs up to Gov. Tim Walz and his team of health experts for the recent decision to open up eligibility for COVID vaccinations to all Minnesotans 16 and over beginning next Tuesday.

Minnesota has been giving an average of 40,000 shots per day for the last few weeks, but that number is expected to grow with bigger federal shipments beginning April 1. The strategy will still call on vaccinators to prioritize patients at high risk for COVID, but will allow the immunity to begin building among younger adults, where the spread is said to be growing.

It's a bold move, but one that is justified by the science and one that will help business get back to normal.

END