Editorial Roundup: Minnesota

Minneapolis Star Tribune. May 1, 2024.

Editorial: In the cellar with Minnesota state Sen. Nicole Mitchell

An evenhanded process is needed for dealing with legislator behavior.

Here’s what’s not subject to interpretation: State Sen. Nicole Mitchell did something, and it looked very much like a crime, and even she — as she was getting caught — thought it had not been a very good idea.

“I know I did something bad,” Mitchell, DFL-Woodbury, told a police officer after being found in the basement of her stepmother’s Detroit Lakes home in the predawn darkness wearing all-black clothing. She hadn’t called first to say she was going to pay a 4 a.m. visit. She hadn’t rung the doorbell. Evidently she entered through a basement window and used a flashlight muted by a black sock. “Clearly I’m not good at this,” she also said.

All this according to a criminal complaint, which does what would be expected with such a set of circumstances: It accuses her of felony first-degree burglary.

So the question is whether she still belongs in the Legislature.

During her arrest on April 22, according to the charges, Mitchell offered a justification for her activities. Her father had died. Her stepmother had cut off access to the family. Mitchell wanted some of her dad’s items, including his ashes. She implied later on Facebook that cognitive decline and paranoia — not hers — had lent the matter urgency.

If these circumstances are true — and that’s not clear from what’s known publicly — then Mitchell may indeed have been facing a difficult situation. There were other ways to deal with it, though. They may not have been quick or easy, and they may even have been quite frustrating, but they wouldn’t have subjected her to arrest.

So the question is whether Mitchell still belongs in the Legislature.

We’re not trying to string you along, readers. We’re not trying to waffle. We’ve often taken a compassionate stance when Minnesota political figures have faced accusations, holding out for the full facts and a sense of whether the leader still has the trust of colleagues and constituents. In that spirit, we decline to join calls for her to resign immediately.

That’s in part because we know, via the Minnesota Reformer, that five other current legislators continue to serve despite having committed offenses that arguably posed more risk to public safety than Mitchell’s alleged felony offense did. The hall of shame: Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault, who was pulled over on suspicion of driving drunk but ultimately pleaded guilty to reckless driving; Sen. Tou Xiong, DFL-Maplewood, DWI; Rep. Matt Grossell, R-Clearbrook, DWI; Rep. Dan Wolgamott, DFL-St. Cloud, DWI, and Rep. Brion Curran, DFL-White Bear Lake, DWI.

We lose enthusiasm for any legislator who lacks the second-order thinking to ask: If I do this thing I know to be wrong, and I get caught — or even if I don’t — what then? What then for me, for my family, for my potential victims, for my colleagues, for Minnesotans?

It’s a capacity you’d want all legislators to possess, not just for protecting their own reputations but for judging the potential effects of the bills they approve.

Mitchell’s DFL colleagues seem to sense the difficulty. Over the weekend, they took her off committee and caucus work. But they don’t want to lose her floor vote just yet, because with just a one-vote majority in the Senate, they might need it. They might need it very much.

And that’s a problem, because it means the case is no longer just about Mitchell. It’s about whether a party with a razor-thin majority can pass difficult legislation with the confidence of a closely divided electorate. (For the record, we on the Star Tribune Editorial Board think some of that legislation is important to approve.)

Mitchell’s Republican counterparts grasp the situation, too. On Monday they entered two motions to prevent any senator charged with a violent crime from voting until Senate Subcommittee on Ethical Conduct completes an investigation. The instinct is correct, but an ethics policy cannot be adapted on the fly, not least when political advantage is at stake. As if to prove the point, Mitchell’s vote was necessary to answer the question of whether she could continue voting.

Perhaps we’re cynical, but we sense that the positions in this affair would be reversed if the parties’ roles were. The Legislature should take that kind of partisan intrigue out of play soon, but with care for the consequences, intended and otherwise.

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Mankato Free Press. May 3, 2024.

Editorial: Government: Bipartisan energy permit reform good for business, environment

Permit reform has been on the list of many legislators of both parties for years, but it’s good news to see it actually happening in at least one area.

Sen. Nick Frentz, DFL-North Mankato, an assistant Senate majority leader, has ushered through a bill that will help streamline a cumbersome permit process for clean energy and power transmission projects with an eye toward helping the state reach its goal of carbon free energy by 2040. The bill would reduce some steps in the permitting process without reducing public input or environmental safety, according to Frentz.

The plan would reduce the requirement for some projects to have more in-depth, time-consuming studies and require only standard studies done by the project developer that would still go through a review process. Smaller projects would have standard reviews while larger projects would have major reviews.

The bill would also shift some permitting responsibilities from the Department of Commerce to the Public Utilities Commission, thereby reducing cross-agency delays and tangles. It would streamline a system that now involves the PUC, the Department of Commerce and an administrative law judge.

It will also broaden an existing exemption for projects to produce a certificate of need to the PUC, giving a nod to the understanding clean energy projects are needed to meet carbon emission goals.

Frentz says it will reduce total permitting time by 20%. Some environment lawyers say it will reduce time by half in some cases and cut three to six months off standard reviews and sixth months off major reviews.

Frentz has been willing to modify the Senate bill based on assessments from a wide range of stakeholders from environment groups to business. The Center for Environmental Advocacy, one of the most influential environmental groups, such companies as REI and Google, and trade unions have supported the plan.

The full Senate has passed the plan while the House is working out the details of its version. We urge the Legislature to approve this well thought out bipartisan proposal that will speed up green energy projects and help meet the Minnesota goal of carbon free energy by 2040.

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