Publisher’s Perspective

By Tim Douglass, Publisher of the Pope County Tribune

It was great to see the Highway 29 Overpass renamed as the Deputy Josh Owen Memorial Overpass.

The event happened last Friday as local and MnDOT officials gathered to memorialize the overpass in Josh Owen’s name.

It was an uplifting event and thank you to Sen. Torrey Westrom and our Rep. Paul Anderson for doing the work on the state level to get the renaming accomplished.

And a special thank you to Mark and Rosie Hedner for donating the cost of the signs and the installation.

In just the week after it was announced that our representatives at the state legislature had included the renaming of the overpass, it was learned that there was no funding.

Mark Hedner stepped up almost immediately.  The below statement is what Mark and Rosie reacted to after reading about the tribute to Josh Owen’s legacy in Pope County.

“To memorialize Owen’s legacy of service to our community, a sign will be put up on the overpass on Highway 29 and at the intersection of Highway 55. The next step to making this a reality is raising the funding to cover the costs of the signs.  We look forward to continuing our work with the Pope County Sheriff’s Office and Deputy Owen’s wife, Shannon, to help with this effort,” Westrom stated.

In my column I wrote:  “The cost of the signs certainly won’t stop this community from making sure Josh Owen is remembered in this way.”

The next day Mark Hedner stopped in and told me he was going to donate the full amount needed for the signs.  He had contacted Sheriff Tim Riley and work began on the new signage.

MnDOT, who was on scene installing the new signs on Friday, let Josh Owen’s son, Rylen, provide the finishing touches of attaching the sign to the base on the north side of the overpass.

When finished and the new sign was erected, he raised his hands in victory.  It was a touching and uplifting moment.

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School Resource Officers reacted in the past few weeks to the new state law that contained language on “acceptable restraint” of students.

I had talked with Rep. Paul Anderson on the issue and had a short conversation with Minnewaska School Resource Officer Eric Thesing.  Thesing told me he wasn’t overly concerned about the language in the new law, but it could add some complications.  He said the Pope County Sheriff’s Office was working with Minnewaska Area Schools Supt. Chip Rankin on the issue.

Rep. Anderson told me last week he hoped the law could be clarified in a special session.  Gov. Tim Walz said last week he was open to such a session.  But over the weekend a group of metro- area parents and metro-area DFL legislators objected to a special session.

According to the Reformer, an online news outlet, a bloc of progressive, mostly Twin Cities House and Senate DFL members were opposed to a special legislative session to change a new law that bans using certain restraints on students.

The law says district employees, including police known as school resource officers, can’t use prone restraints on students — meaning place them in a face-down position — and they can’t use restraints that inhibit a student’s ability to breathe or voice distress. However, they may use these kinds of restraints “to prevent imminent bodily harm or death to the student or to another,” the report stated.

Numerous law enforcement agencies over the past few weeks pulled officers from their local schools because they say it has opened them up to potential lawsuits if they use any amount of physical force in certain situations. Republicans last week advocated for Gov. Tim Walz to call a special session and drafted a bill that would get rid of the physical restraint ban.

We would hope the issue will be a topic of discussion at the next legislative session, since a special session appears unlikely.