Justice We Pursue

Minnesota Lottery Gone Wild?

We should be very concerned about the saturation of Minnesota's gambling market and the pressures now felt by all gambling operators to increase their revenues by more aggressively marketing their products. Here at JRLC we have a clear-eyed understanding of the social harms of gambling and the true costs we all pay for seemingly “easy revenue.”

The Minnesotan Lottery, an agency of our own state government, recently noticed that sales were lagging among younger people, and then decided to expand its product offering by expanding their activities to Internet gambling. Has the Lottery gone wild? At the very least, this marketing shift, made without legislative approval, should sound the alarm bells and have us all revisit the question of what we ask of our state lottery, and whether it now has reached a point of asserting unhealthy bureaucratic imperatives.

JRLC supports Rep. Davids' HF 51 and Sen. Koenen’s  SF 188, which would halt the expansion of state-operated Internet gambling, and hopes that this bill will focus attention on the marketing strategies of our State Lottery and make sure they reflect true public purpose.

JRLC is one of the few interest groups that bothers to pick up the rock that is gambling and report on what crawls underneath. Gambling is a damaging public finance tool, and is harmful to the community as a whole. Gambling relies heavily on exploiting problem gamblers for its revenue. Any expansion in our state’s lottery will spur even greater marketing efforts and more incentives to attract new customers, thereby creating more problem gamblers. Efforts to expand state-operated gambling isn’t just an expansion of gambling activity, it’s an escalation of a harmful industry.

JRLC keeps abreast of the scientific and academic literature on gambling in the United States. The best evidence shows that social costs outweigh social benefits by a margin of 4.7 to 1. It is also true that about 80% of the lottery's revenues come from about 15% of the customers. In other words a few players play, and lose, a lot.

The State of Minnesota is operating a guaranteed losing proposition. We should no longer gloss over the very real costs of problem gambling that can be counted in increased crime, business and employment costs, bankruptcy, suicide, illness, social services, regulatory costs, family costs, and unpaid debts. We should no longer ignore the fact that our lottery is a very regressive, inefficient revenue-raiser.

JRLC offers this wisdom distilled from centuries of religious thinking and moral thought: Gambling is prohibited in the tenets of many faith communities, while in other faith traditions gambling may be tolerated, but only as a temporary amusement to raise money for a good cause, and never as a substitute for public stewardship.

Article XIII, Sec. 5 of the Minnesota State Constitution starts with a plain, outright ban on lotteries. Voters in 1988 provided for an exception — the sale of lottery tickets by a lottery authorized by the state. We need to remember the Lottery exists as an exception to a general ban and efforts to enlarge the exception should be viewed with utmost caution. oppose the expansion of gambling and increased state reliance on gambling revenues.

Brian Rusche, JRLC Executive Director

Greetings from Nicole Guthrie, JRLC Intern

Hello JRLC supporters! My name is Nicole Guthrie, and I am a student at United Theological Seminary studying social transformation. I am very excited to be involved in the mission and vision of the JRLC. It will be wonderful to witness the full legislative experience of how a vision for equity and justice can produce research and a policy, leading to a bill that heads to the legislature for a vote, which is hopefully passed.

My interest in social justice began while studying for my Master’s in Theological Studies at Iliff Seminary in Denver, Colorado.  I took a class called, “Race, Class and Gender.” The class offered the chance for introspection. We focused on how we learned to be our race, our class and our gender. By reflecting on these learning processes, we were able to discuss the differences in our stories. This class deeply influenced my desire to study social transformation and my passion for human rights equality.  As a result, while attending Iliff, I chose an internship at Equality Colorado, a non-profit that worked to promote equality for the LGBTQI community through public policy.pic of UTS

I have experienced a similar process of introspection and transformation on my faith journey. I was raised in the Christian tradition and have recently begun the process of conversion to Judaism. It is an exciting time of exploration and learning, and much of my free time is spent on this process. Nevertheless, you still might find me near the water, drinking an iced latte, reading a good book, watching football “Go Steelers!” or playing with my cat Gus.

Payday Lending Reform Bill: Floor Votes

 

How did your state legislators vote on the Payday Lending Reform Bill?

One of JRLC's key issues was eliminating the debt trap caused by predatory aspects of the payday lending industry. Although identical bills were not passed in both the House and the Senate, HF 2293 and amended language from SF 2368 were passed in their respective houses.

The bill passed 73-58 in the House and 37-25 in the Senate.

 

In the MN House of Representatives:

73 Yeas: 

Allen

Anzelc

Atkins

Barrett

Benson, J.

Bernardy

Bly

Brynaert

Carlson

Clark

Davnie

Dehn, R.

Dorholt

Erhardt

Erickson, R.

Falk

Faust

Fischer

Freiberg

Fritz

Halverson

Hansen

Hausman

Hilstrom

Hornstein

Hortman

Huntley

Isaacson

Johnson, C.

Johnson, S.

Kahn

Laine

Lenczewski

Lesch

Liebling

Lien

Lillie

Loeffler

Mahoney

Mariani

Marquart

Masin

McNamar

Melin

Metsa

Moran

Morgan

Mullery

Murphy, E.

Murphy, M.

Nelson

Newton

Norton

Paymar

Pelowski

Persell

Poppe

Radinovich

Rosenthal

Savick

Sawatzky

Schoen

Selcer

Simon

Simonson

Slocum

Sundin

Thissen

Wagenius

Ward, J.A.

Ward, J.E.

Winkler

Yarusso

 

58 Nays:

Abeler

Albright

Anderson, P.

Anderson, S.

Beard

Benson, M.

Cornish

Daudt

Davids

Dean, M.

Dettmer

Dill

Drazkowski

Erickson, S.

Fabian

Franson

Garofalo

Green

Gruenhagen

Gunther

Hackbarth

Hamilton

Hertaus

Holberg

Hoppe

Howe

Johnson, B.

Kelly

Kieffer

Kiel

Kresha

Leidiger

Lohmer

Loon

Mack

McNamara

Myhra

Newberger

Nornes

O'Driscoll

O'Neill

Peppin

Petersburg

Pugh

Quam

Runbeck

Sanders

Schomacker

Scott

Swedzinski

Theis

Torkelson

Uglem

Urdahl

Wills

Woodard

Zellers

Zerwas

 

3 did not vote:

Anderson, M., Fitzsimmons, McDonald

In the MN Senate

37 Yeas:

Bakk

Carlson

Champion

Clausen

Cohen

Dahle

Dibble

Dziedzic

Eaton

Eken

Franzen

Goodwin

Hawj

Hayden

Jensen

Johnson

Kent

Koenen

Latz

Lourey

Marty

Metzen

Pappas

Reinert

Rest

Saxhaug

Scalze

Schmit

Sheran

Sieben

Skoe

Sparks

Stumpf

Tomassoni

Torres Ray

Wiger

Wiklund

     

 

25 Nays:

Anderson Benson Bonoff Brown Chamberlain
Dahms Gazelka Hall Hann Hoffman
Ingebrigtsen Nelson Newman Nienow Ortman
Osmek Pederson, J. Peterson, B. Pratt Rosen
Ruud Senjem Thompson Weber Westrom

 

5 did not vote:

Fischbach, Housley, Kiffmeyer, Limmer, Miller

 

The problem with short-term relief

by Breanne Royer, student intern

Finals week is around the corner for many students, including myself. This will mean hours spent in front of a computer screen and hours pouring over the books you supposedly read this past semester. All of this adds up to one thing for me: a headache. During finals week, I don’t have time to wait for the headache to go away on its own, so, like many of my fellow students, I reach for an over the counter pain reliever like Acetaminophen (e.g.Tylenol). These drugs are meant as a temporary, short-term fix. Much like payday loans, they are not to be taken repeatedly, one after another, with no break.

Payday Loans are marketed as short-term emergency loans. Much like headache medicine, they are for the temporary relief of financial debt. The problem is, the temporary relief is just that: temporary. The payday loan borrower will take out the initial loan for an emergency, but what we have learned is that the borrower must take out more loans in order to cover additional fees and the newly acquired debt from the initial loan. In a way, you started with a small dose of acetaminophen to relieve that temporary headache, but must continue taking the drug every time it wears off to battle another headache. Why is this dangerous? Because an overdose of this drug can lead to severe liver damage.

Just as the warning on that bottle of acetaminophen which warns about the dangers of liver damage when taken in excess, payday lenders make the interest rates on their loans apparent when the borrower takes out the loan. What is not easily apparent is the debt trap a borrower can find him/herself in after taking out the initial loan. The average borrower in Minnesota is not using payday loans to treat a one-time financial emergency, but rather taking out an average of 10 loans a year in an attempt to close the debt gap. It’s the headache that doesn’t end  - and it is detrimental to the finances of the borrower. Just like the warning on the drug bottle, the information about payday loan fees is there (in tiny print), but the reality of having a headache or financial distress causes a person to discount the future and opt for the quick relief.

The FDA has started asking companies to withdraw medicine with high dosages of acetaminophen and is looking into other regulations for over the counter drugs with acetaminophen. Even with consumer knowledge about the harmful effects of prolonged usage, the FDA recognizes that consumers are sometimes motivated by the situation at hand without considering fully the future consequences of this decision (even well-informed consumers).

Similarly, the payday loan reform bill does not attempt to take away temporary financial aid. Instead, the bill looks to regulate payday loans to protect the finances of consumers. This is a crucial consumer protection issue with a straightforward solution:

  1. Limit the amount of time a consumer can be in debt at triple-digit interest rates; and
  2. Institute reasonable underwriting standards to insure that a borrower has an ability to repay the loan. 

 

Let's limit the harm of the payday loan debt trap while continuing to make payday loans available in an emergency. Contact your State Senator and urge her or him to support payday lending reform.

Breanne Royer is working on a joint M.A./M.S.W. degree at Luther Seminary in St Paul and Augsburg College in Minneapolis, MN.

Tikkun Olam: First-time Reflections on JRLC's Day on the Hill

In the spirit of “tikkun olam” (a Hebrew phrase which translates to “healing the world”), over 700 people of faith gathered for JRLC’s Day on the Hill at the St. Paul RiverCentre and the Minnesota State Capitol on March 13th, 2014!

Not being originally from Minnesota, my first experience with JRLC’s Day on the Hill was helping to prepare for it. I handled registration: entering names into our database to help generate nametags, getting a food count for vegetarian lunch options, ordering copious amounts of water bottles, accommodating group requests, serving as a point of reference for those who needed guidance through our online registration process, and generally doing the best I could to answer any questions people had without ever having actually participated in the event myself.

I had no idea what a JRLC Day on the Hill would look like, but when the time finally came, I was amazed by what I saw.

JRLC advocates were friendly and engaged, and they filled two big ballrooms at the St. Paul RiverCentre. People from so many different faith backgrounds sat around tables chatting, cheering for the speakers, and discussing important legislative issues as they planned their meetings with their state representatives.

After a Keynote Address at the RiverCentre, given by Rabbi David Saperstein, everyone was filled in on our priority legislative issues. The legislative agenda for the day centered on four main objectives: reforming predatory aspects of the payday lending industry, raising the minimum wage in Minnesota, maintaining an impartial state judiciary system, and advocating for government support for childcare assistance and affordable housing.

The RiverCentre was full of an infectious energy that easily transferred to the Capitol building, where our advocates filled the Rotunda and embarked on meetings with their legislators. Once everyone arrived at the Capitol, the Social Justice Awards were given out (congratulations, students from Al Amal School and Jim Soderberg!). In a moving demonstration of interfaith work, Bishop Peter Rogness of the St. Paul Area Synod, ELCA, led everyone in a prayer for Social Justice.

Groups organized by their legislative districts set off to meet with their legislators and have fruitful conversations about the main issues of the day. After months of bitterly cold weather, the outside temperature reached a balmy 50 degrees Fahrenheit, making it comfortable for people to sit outside on the Capitol steps and enjoy the sunshine while waiting for meetings. iCAN and blank slate theatre’s theatrical collaboration BOTTOM, the original play about human sex-trafficking in Minnesota, was also performed in the Capitol – introduced by Senator Sandy Pappas!

After a busy and full day of advocating, Sister Anna Marie Reha from the Diocese of New Ulm lead a closing prayer on the steps of the Capitol.

JRLC constituents, bound together by a common desire to act through personal faith traditions, showed me and the Minnesota State Legislature just how engaged and powerful the faith community can be. As I joke so often around the office – this definitely was the best JRLC Day on the Hill EVER.

-Emily Shimkus, Advocacy Associate

All photos ©Alison Bents

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