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It is time for Minnesota to pass Restore the Vote (HF 28), a bill that as a former state representative I carried for years. I carried it because I care about our democracy, and because it's personal.

My conviction occurred in 1976, and I served seven months. As many people with felony convictions believe, I thought I had lost my right to vote forever. Having a voice in my community was important to me, so in 1981, I applied for and received a pardon. Looking back, I must ask myself how much being white played into me being seen as someone worthy of redemption.

Once signed into law, HF 28 will allow roughly 55,000 people in Minnesota to once again vote, all people whom the judicial system and the Department of Corrections have approved to live in the community and have, therefore, determined not to be a threat to public safety. HF 28 would also reduce racial disparities in ballot access, which silence the voice and vote of communities of color. These disparities reflect unequal enforcement and punishment by our criminal legal system.

There is ample research to show that pro-civic behavior, like voting, significantly reduces the likelihood of someone reoffending. This is not only an election bill and a racial equity bill; it is a public safety bill, preferencing redemption over retribution.

It is time for Minnesota to pass this bill. There's a national trend toward re-enfranchising people who are not incarcerated: Eight states have restored the vote to all non-incarcerated people in just the past six years alone. Currently, two states and the District of Columbia allow people to vote while they are incarcerated, and 21 states allow people to vote when released or under supervision as they live and work in public.

Finally, I cannot stress enough: This is not a partisan issue. In the four terms that I carried this bill, there have been several Republican and Democrat co-authors; a GOP chair of the Public Safety committee in the House was the chief author.

It is time that Minnesota joins states like Indiana, Utah and North Dakota. Citizens deemed safe to be returned to the public must also regain their sacred right to vote and participate in our democracy. But, whether or not you care about the well-being of the formerly incarcerated, the bottom line is: The bill ultimately serves the interests of society at large.

Raymond Dehn, Minneapolis


I am the founder and director of Until We All Are Free (UWAAF), an organization creating seats at the table and a place at the mic for justice-impacted people.

First, gratitude to Minnesota's legislators for the noble aspirations that brought you to your seats. However — as a minority and disenfranchised human in this country — most of our representatives do not look like me and my community; this is an age-old fight for equality and representation.

To lawmakers who support Restore the Vote (HF 28) and believe that all citizens living in the community deserve the right to vote: Thank you. To lawmakers who don't, I ask that you remain a humble servant of the people and be willing to listen and change your mind based on the pleas of your fellow citizens.

As a senior in high school, I was convicted of a felony and sentenced to serve 15 years. Fifteen years is what I served, each day paying my debt. Before I came home, I chose to dedicate my life to being a community servant: This is why I founded UWAAF.

With Restore the Vote, having the right to vote does not dismiss one's responsibility to all the conditions of probation or parole. It actually incentivizes it, while helping people engage and invest in their communities.

My hope is that we all will have that opportunity to be restored, to have a seat at the table, a place at the mic and a voice through the ballot.

Kevin Reese Jr., Brooklyn Park


We all want safe roads, don't we?

The letter writers who oppose allowing nonlegal residents getting driver's licenses are ignoring the purpose of requiring a license to drive ("For legal residents only," Readers Write, Feb. 1). It is to ensure the driver knows traffic laws and can demonstrate the ability to drive safely. It also allows them to purchase auto insurance. Don't we want everyone sharing the roadway with us to have proven they can drive safely regardless of their immigration status?

Sally Thomas, Edina


Tuesday letter writers list all the laws that illegal residents are violating while ignoring what drives them to come to the United States — seeking work to better their lives.

Cracking down on employer's illegal hiring practices will solve a big part of the illegal immigration problem.

Exploitation of workers by some employers is nothing new, nor is politicians who accept their campaign donations as they turn a blind eye to this illegal business practice.

Michael LaFave, Forest Lake


In reference to giving driver's licenses to all illegal immigrants in Minnesota, I am not only concerned about the fact that it will encourage people who are here illegally to drive, but also encourage allowing more privileges for those here illegally. And my other concern with them being allowed to drive illegally is, do they understand the English language enough to be able to read road signs that are so crucial when driving, especially in the metro area? Obviously this is not just an issue with those driving illegally, as it can happen with anyone. But it just seems like another reason to make sure they follow the proper channels to obtain a license, including applying for citizenship first.

Dyann Schumacher, Glenwood, Minn.


Goodbye to a dedicated friend

Dave Durenberger was a statesman. In 1978, Dave was elected to the U.S. Senate. Working with a small bipartisan group he played a key role in the passage of major clean-air legislation. He knew how to work across party lines, did his homework and was persuasive.

Dave was always a gentleman; always there for people.

I first met Dave when he was a new, young lawyer in 1965. We immediately connected and had mutual respect for each other, from our private Catholic education at the University of St. Thomas and St. John's University to our love of Minnesota. It was at a time where I was beginning my long explorations in the Arctic and Dave was the person who worked behind the scenes to propel my career forward.

I began working with Dave in Washington, D.C., on the ozone hole and the protection of the Arctic Refuge. He connected me with Rep. Bruce Vento and then-Sen. Al Gore. He was always there to help me politically as I was planning my expeditions and seeking opportunities for environmental protection at the federal level.

Dave set up my meeting with George H.W. Bush when I completed my trans-Antarctica expedition in 1990. It was Dave working behind the scenes to get the president to protect Antarctica from mineral exploration, and who secured my testimony before Congress on the importance of the continent for international cooperation, education and research.

Dave gave me the courage to follow my dreams. His belief in me propelled my expedition and political engagement. This belief translated to anyone else who was lucky enough to spend time with him.

He was a man of wisdom and was sharp until the very end. He was the definition of a wise person, always generous and complimentary. I was fortunate to have had nearly 60 years of friendship. I will remember Dave's childlike spirit and immense knowledge of diplomacy and politics. Minnesota and the country lost a rare diplomat and environmental champion, but his legacy will endure.

Will Steger, Ely, Minn.