Post Bulletin, Nov. 6

Assuring safety in child-care centers is paramount

No one would disagree that aggressive background checks are needed for child care providers. The tougher, the better, most people would say.

But a provision in a new state law that requires teens who live with a licensed child care provider to be fingerprinted and photographed as part of the background check may be a step too far.

The issue

The provision was tucked away in the 672-page human resources budget bill that was passed by the Legislature during the special session. It mandates that young people ages 13-17 to who live with a licensed child care provider have to be fingerprinted and photographed as part of the background check for licensure.

The Department of Human Services pushed for the provision to be included, saying it’s another way to check the background of those who have access to children and to keep children safe.

As part of the change, the state will take over background checks on families of in-home providers; those checks generally have been done by counties until now.

The changes won’t be implemented until next summer or fall. Some child care advocates are trying to get the Legislature to repeal it before then.

Arguments for

Background checks of this kind are not new. According to the Human Services Department, state law has required background checks for young people ages 13-17 since 1989.

Background checks on minors have had an impact. Sixteen license applicants were disqualified in 2016 due to background checks on minors, and nine have been disqualified to date this year.

Fingerprints add to the effectiveness of the checks, improving safety.

Federal law already requires people age 18 and older to get a fingerprint-based check. Officials say it makes sense to extend that to teens in the home.

Arguments against

Some in-home providers say it’s an invasion of privacy for family members.

They say there’s a fear factor and stigma for young people that may not apply to adults.

There’s also concern about the personal data remaining on file or being shared with other law enforcement agencies, including national agencies. The state says that won’t happen.

Some child care association officials say in-home providers will drop out, rather than have their children undergo the fingerprint-based checks, further reducing already-limited child care options.

Our view

Fingerprints and photos for minors may be an overreach — it would seem that a thorough check of a juvenile’s record can be made without them — but we’ll tune into the discussion at the Capitol next year when the effort is made to repeal this provision. No legislators spoke up for the law in a Senate committee meeting last week. We think a more robust discussion is worth having.

Why? Because nothing’s more important than doing everything possible to assure the safety of children in child care centers, whether in the home or in a place of business. It may be inconvenient and invasive, but if it’s of proven value to protect children, it’s worth the inconvenience.


St. Cloud Times, Nov. 10

Expanding MinnesotaCare deserves discussion

Driven by partisan ambitions, elected officials at the federal level are repeatedly failing to “repeal and replace” the Affordable Care Act.

Minnesota, meanwhile, might have a viable solution if — and, yes, that’s a big “if” — its elected officials can set aside partisanship for at least one legislative hearing and examine a proposal known as MinnesotaCare Buy-In.

Minnesota Lt. Gov. Tina Smith and Human Services Commissioner Emily Piper visited St. Cloud last week to talk about MinnesotaCare Buy-In, and especially the reasonable request for at least one legislative hearing about it.

The state’s Republican-led House and Senate, which basically denied that approach last session, should grant that request in 2018.

The proposal from DFLers sounds promising but also raises some important questions. A legislative hearing would be a good way for the public to learn whether more examination is needed.

A proven, bipartisan program

MinnesotaCare began 25 years ago as bipartisan way to provide low-income households with subsidized health coverage.

Proponents want to expand MinnesotaCare to make it available to eligible individuals who now buy insurance on the open market.

Today it covers about 100,000 Minnesotans who earn more than limits for federal programs but still are within 200 percent of the federal poverty guidelines. (Roughly a single person making between $16,000 and $24,000.)

Participants can pick from plans MinnesotaCare provides through counties. The program is funded by a state tax on Minnesota hospitals and health care providers, Basic Health Program funding via the ACA, and enrollee premiums and cost sharing.

Expensive? Well, remember …

According to the Minnesota House, in fiscal year 2015, MinnesotaCare paid $510 million for medical services provided to enrollees. Fifty-four percent was paid for by the state, 43 percent by the federal government, and 3 percent by enrollees through premium payments.

Certainly $510 million is a lot of money. Remember, though, the Legislature just this session agreed to spend more than $860 million to curb premium increases in the individual market and to keep that market viable.

Proponents of MinnesotaCare Buy-In say it will cost $12 million to set up. Citing a larger risk pool, the goal is that beyond the setup cost, the new enrollees’ premiums will pay for any additional expenses.

Please note, though, the state and federal funds now funding MinnesotaCare are in doubt. The hospital tax for the former is set to expire, and President Trump is facing a lawsuit because he wants to cut the latter.

Similarly, as Sen. Michelle Benson notes in her commentary , MinnesotaCare reimbursement rates to hospitals and doctors are lower than what private insurers provide so how will that impact the expansion?

Again, MinnesotaCare has been mostly successful for 25 years in providing coverage for low-income Minnesotans who don’t qualify for federal programs. It’s that success that makes it worthwhile to fully vet the idea of expanding it to Minnesota’s individual market.

The Republican-led Legislature should do so with a public hearing in 2018 at which key questions can be asked and answered for the public to see. Debate first, then decide.


Mankato Free Press, Nov. 11

Harassment complaints: Legislature’s ethics committees fall short

While the Minnesota House and Senate have ethics committees that could address recent allegations of sexual harassment by members, the victims of such harassment would not likely find the committees the answer to what appears to be a serious culture problem at the state Capitol.

Last week, allegations came to light that DFL Sen. Dan Schoen sexually harassed another DFL legislative candidate by commenting on her buttocks and, according to one report, groping her. At the same time, a DFL legislator alleged Rep. Tony Cornish sexually harassed her through a text message commenting on her body. A lobbyist accused Cornish of pursuing numerous uninvited sexual advances.

Both men deny various parts of the allegations and say they were misunderstood in others.

DFL leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk and Gov. Mark Dayton, have called on Schoen to resign. GOP House Speaker Kurt Daudt suspended Cornish from his committee chairmanship and began an investigation through House human resources.

In the Senate, leaders have said the Ethics Committee may be able to impose discipline if Schoen refused to resign. The same can be said for the Cornish case.

Both House and Senate ethics committees are made up of equal members of the majority and minority parties with a total of four members on each committee. While the bipartisan nature of the committee is essential for fairness, it also is a prescription for gridlock. It would be rare for a legislator to “cross over” and vote against one of his or her own caucus.

Both committees have standards of ethical conduct that are open to much interpretation. Both committees say complaints may be brought against a member who “violates a rule or administrative policy of the (House, Senate), that violates accepted norms of (House, Senate) behavior, that betrays the public trust, or that tends to bring the (House, Senate) into dishonor or disrepute.”

Both House and Senate ethics committees can recommend expulsion of a member, but that vote must pass by two-thirds majority in each house. That’s another high hurdle to overcome.

In the case of the Senate, if the ethics committee finds evidence that the complaint is substantiated, it refers the matter to the rules committee, which would have a majority of members from the majority party. Again, the investigation has the potential to turn partisan.

In the House, ethics committee recommendations for discipline are to be supported by “clear and convincing evidence.” That sounds straight forward, but given the cases involved in the recent harassment allegations, the parties to the issue are already disputing what was clear and convincing.

Two DFL legislators and a former candidate have suggested the governor and legislative leaders form a task force on sexual harassment and create a nonpartisan body to investigate allegations. That may be a solution.

But perhaps the sexual harassment problem at the Legislature should be solved as it is in the private sector. Legislators should be considered “employees” if not of the state, than of the people. They should be subject to the same sexual harassment laws that are imposed on employers. They are bound to fire employees for sexual harassment or face a lawsuit. End of story.

If there are legal hurdles to defining legislators as employees, the people who make the laws should change them.

Legislators should not be exempt from sexual harassment laws. Right now, they are.