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Mediation bill offers a real way to work through conflicts

Rep. Carolyn Laine
Rep. Carolyn Laine

It seems, maybe, for all we complain about it, we all love conflict.

Republicans and Democrats tearing at each other over sequestration, same-sex marriage, gun rights, taxes — even the first lady’s appearance at the Oscars — we can’t agree on anything.

While it’s to be expected, it’s not good for us. Not as a country, a state or a society.

Overlooked on Monday while the media chased down conflict, a group gathered to promote legislation that seeks to eliminate much of what gums up our system and makes compromise so rare.

I, along with many of my colleagues, introduced a bill that would support peaceful and lasting resolution to conflicts on issues ranging from child-custody legislation to intergovernmental disputes. This legislation creates an Office of Collaboration and Dispute Resolution, which would be housed at the Bureau of Mediation Services, and would work to support peaceful, efficient and lasting resolutions to conflicts.

Hibbing water shortage

You need only go back a few days in the pages of the Star Tribune to see the importance of this resolution. My hometown of Hibbing is confronting something most of us who live in the Land of 10,000 Lakes would have thought unthinkable: a water shortage. The water we all use comes from deep aquifers, and demands have increased faster than replenishment.

Hibbing claims that Hibbing Taconite’s mining efforts are causing water shortages in the area. The city has asked the Department of Natural Resources to get involved with negotiations with the company.

More complaints of this nature are likely in the future. Ethanol plants, farmers and people who live near these big users of water need to find answers, and they can’t count on the state DNR to pick a winner in these disputes.

These are not win-lose scenarios; they have to be win-win.

Uses community mediation

I authored this bill because I believe that individuals of all ages and backgrounds can resolve their own disputes — effectively, inexpensively and peacefully. This office would encourage the use of mediation for intergovernmental disputes and utilizes community mediation in areas such as public safety, youth development and education, landlord/tenant concerns, employment, neighborhood disputes, and the court system.

These services would save cities and counties money by reducing reliance on the courts and law enforcement. They would also build stronger communities by finding enduring and effective solutions to conflicts.

The Office of Collaboration and Dispute Resolution will promote the broad use of mediation by providing grants to private nonprofits or entities that assist in resolution of disputes, ensuring that all areas of the state have access to services.

Additional services

The office also will provide technical assistance and best practices, educate the public and governmental entities on mediation options and promote collaborative dispute resolution practices, such as the Minnesota Solutions model, used to resolve more major disputes of public concern, utilizing collaborative processes through facilitated meetings until consensus is reached.

One of the bill’s sponsors, Sen. Alice Johnson, has been a volunteer mediator of Mediation Services of Anoka County for 20 years. She has seen firsthand the transformative power of mediation and how it strengthens and helps families, neighborhoods, students in trouble, juvenile offenders and so many others.

It’s time to find real ways for us all to work together through conflict. The tide has turned; we all want this. This office sets up the opportunity to let this happen.

Rep. Carolyn Laine, DFL-Columbia Heights, represents District 41B in the Minnesota House of Representatives.

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Handshake image by Flickr user Álvaro Canivell and used under Creative Commons License.

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Comments (2)

Rep. Laine,I agree that our

Rep. Laine,

I agree that our judicial system is overworked and we have turned into a bit of a "sue-happy" society. However, lawsuits are generally brought about because two parties cannot agree on something, while mediation inherently requires the two parties to come to an agreement. Additionally, mediation, by definition, is not binding and would require further action to enforce agreements made therein, either via the courts or binding arbitration. Even binding arbitration requires further court action if a party does not complete their obligations.

While I commend the effort to move to a society with more dialogue and understanding, I do not believe this would be an efficient use of tax dollars. I think a better alternative to setting up new government departments/agencies would be to simply provide local mediation and arbitration industry associations with grant money to be specifically applied toward promoting mediation and arbitration in place of court actions. This way would most likely require less money, have less bureaucracy, and have a greater return on investment.

mediation

Would suggest that Mr. Bibus does not compare mediation to alternative medicine. That is like comparing apples to oranges. The "if-dog-rabbit" parade of "what if" are rare, especially when a state has a well-written rule, and a trained, experienced mediator is used.

Regarding the comment by Rep Laine that mediation is not binding, I would respectfully suggest that she and read the statutes on contracts. Most mediation settlement agreements are contracts and are enforceable under contract law. In 30 years of mediating, I have never heard of people going to binding arbitration to make a mediated settlement binding.