Making reform happenWhen lawmakers consider vital but sensitive reforms, they know there’s only one way to get to yes: Together. Members of both parties must vote “Aye” to make sure one side doesn’t hold the reforms against the other at election time. One such proposal is looming
By: Grand Forks Herald, The Jamestown Sun
When lawmakers consider vital but sensitive reforms, they know there’s only one way to get to yes: Together. Members of both parties must vote “Aye” to make sure one side doesn’t hold the reforms against the other at election time.
One such proposal is looming in Minnesota. It would reform the state program that locks up sex offenders in treatment facilities, very often for life.
Few other subjects make Minnesotans so jumpy. But if lawmakers are looking for an early sign that reform is possible in the upcoming session, here’s a big one:
Editorial boards are weighing in with support. That means reformers may have found a middle ground that works for Republicans and Democrats alike.
Alone among popular forms of opinion writing these days, editorials reflect the views of a group: an editorial board. And many editorial boards include both liberals and conservatives as members.
So, when it’s time for each board to form an opinion, its members must compromise. (If they don’t, their paper will publish too many milk-toast editorials that feature the dreaded words, “On the one hand” and “on the other hand.”)
That’s why editorials often are a good indicator of the moderate or consensus view. Board members reach those positions the same way lawmakers do: by weighing arguments and crafting an acceptable compromise.
Think about that in the context of “civil commitment” reform.
A state task force released its report a week ago. Its key recommendation: Minnesota must provide for “less restrictive alternatives,” halfway houses or monitoring programs that fall between the current options of lockup or release.
Early responses to such recommendations help set the debate’s tone. And that’s where editorials come in.
Here’s an excerpt from Saturday’s editorial in the Star Tribune:
“The first report from a new task force reviewing Minnesota’s costly, potentially unconstitutional sex offender program is remarkable less for its initial recommendation than for the strong signal it sends about moving forward with reforms and taking seriously the threat of a federal takeover of the program.
“Legislators need to heed the task force’s call to action and follow its lead in keeping the debate over this controversial issue calm and constructive. … That’s a milestone shift in this long, bitter debate and a reason for confidence that balanced solutions will soon be found.”
In Rochester, Minn., the Post-Bulletin headlined its editorial this way: “Reform likely for ‘all or nothing’ sex-offender program.”
The edit concluded, “Minnesota is moving forward with reforming its costly and possibly unconstitutional sex offender program.”
And the Free Press in Mankato, Minn., agreed, adding in its editorial, “The Legislature must tackle the revamping of the sex offenders program as a bipartisan issue. … If Minnesota doesn’t want to be told how to fix the problem by federal authorities, then it’s up to our lawmakers to take the action necessary to avoid that.”
Editorials are not especially good barometers of public opinion. But they’re often an excellent indicator of consensus opinion, the middle ground that elected officials can find if they try.
On this issue, the boards are weighing in; and so far, they’re saying the task force did a reasonable job. That’s good news for lawmakers, who now can approach the recommendations with some confidence of being on a solid and politically realistic path.