Dan Sparks: Committee deadlines provide transparency and good government

Published 6:32 am Tuesday, February 19, 2019

By Dan Sparks

State Senator, District 27

A key to a healthy democracy is in making the legislative process open, accessible and transparent. Minnesotans deserve a government that works for them, where legislators are responsive, and that they are kept informed of the work we do at the legislature. Too often major legislation is only agreed to in the 11th hour of the legislative session, leaving many people left in the dark as bills get signed into law.

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We as a legislature should be committed to ensuring our constituents are involved and have every opportunity to be aware of the work we do in St. Paul. Thankfully, we are taking steps towards this though establishing a clear timeline for legislation to move through the committee process before it can pass off the floor and get signed into law.

District 27 Sen. Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin

Recently, Gov. Walz and legislative leaders in both the House and the Senate came together and announced committee deadlines that provide a clear path for bills to move forward. While we have deadlines to process bills every session, this year we are adding additional deadlines to provide more transparency.

The first deadline is March 15, at which point bills must move out of their house of origin (the chamber where the bill was introduced). The second deadline of March 29 is for committees to act favorably on bills or companions of bills that met the first deadline in the other chamber.

Committees must approve appropriation and finance bills by the third deadline, April 12. The deadlines do not apply to the Senate committees on Capital Investment, Finance, Taxes, or Rules and Administration. I serve on the Capital Investment Committee, and I anticipate that we will be hearing many requests for construction projects around the state.

Our first “new” deadline will be on May 1, when both chambers will need to have passed major finance bills off the floor and for leaders to set conference committees. As this time, legislators will be selected to represent their respective legislative bodies to negotiate between the House and Senate.

This deadline will be followed by a deadline for May 6, when legislative leaders and the governor will set fiscal targets for major finance bills and release them to conference committee chairs. This will set a ceiling for what each committee area can spend in total. It will be up to legislators to negotiate and agree upon where specific funding goes, and they will have to ensure it is kept at or below their target.

The last committee deadline is May 13 when the chair of conference committees will provide their final reports to their houses of origin. During each of these stops, the public will have the opportunity to follow negotiations and be aware of what is going into the legislation. It’s vital that people have the opportunity during these conference committees to provide input on budget bills, and these new deadlines will provide that.

Of course, our final deadline is set by the Minnesota Constitution, and that’s May 20. We must pass a two-year budget by the time the clock strikes midnight. Instead of 11th hour legislating, I believe these new deadlines give us a clear path to getting our work done in an open manner that is good for Minnesota.