The St. Paul Pioneer Press revealed in a story last week how license suspensions for unpaid traffic tickets can become a vicious circle and an unfair “debt trap” for low-income workers. The article goes on to describe a legislative effort to expand “driver diversion” programs, which allow folks to legally drive after making arrangements to gradually repay the tickets. The debt trap is particularly acute in Greater Minnesota, which lacks such programs, and that’s why the driver diversion bill made it on our list of priorities on the Minnesota Rural Equity Project. The Minnesota Asset Building Coalition (MABC), one of our formal partners in the project, is one of the leading organizations pushing for the driver diversion program, as well as giving courts discretion to reduce or waive a $75 state surcharge on traffic tickets in cases of financial hardship. "We need a way to hold people accountable for their driving behavior without completely derailing their ability to work and support themselves,” says Anna Odegaard, legislative advocate for the MABC.
A news report by KAAL-TV in Rochester captured what Growth & Justice staff has been hearing from a series of Greater Minnesota “Rural Issues Discussions” convened by the Minnesota Farmers Union recently. Health-care costs are THE overriding concern, for farmers and small business owners in particular. Minnesota Human Services Department Commissioner Emily Piper noted in the KAAL report that rising costs disproportionately impact those groups in Greater Minnesota. We attended an MFU discussion in Norwood Young America last week, where we heard strong worries about health-care affordability, and MFU officials told us health-care concerns were a major theme in most of the meetings. The problem is compounded by market conditions for many farmers. Declining crop prices and other factors resulted in 30 percent of Minnesota farmers losing income in 2016, according to an analysis by the University of Minnesota Extension and Minnesota State, although conditions improved slightly over 2015.
Minnesota historians and public policy experts have long observed that business leadership in Minnesota tends to be more progressive and generous than in other places. A new study suggests that tradition is holding up, as measured by adherence to ethical business standards. No fewer than five Minnesota-based companies _ 3M, Ecolob, Target, Thrivent Financial and U.S. Bank _ are on the latest list of the World’s Most Ethical Companies, measured by the group Ethisphere. The 124 companies on the list span five continents, 19 countries, and 52 industry sectors. For perspective, Minnesota is home to 4 percent of the companies on the list, but less than 1/10th of 1 percent of the world’s population.
“I could have lost my job. I could have been a felon and gone to prison…for being broke…My life would have been totally ruined if I wouldn’t have gotten that help.” – Carmen Mask, St. Paul employment counselor and mother of three, on her successful enrollment in a driver diversion program, from the St. Paul Pioneer Press
“We’re criminalizing poverty.”-- State Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, author of driver diversion bill in the Minnesota House, from the St. Paul Pioneer Press.