Others’ opinion: Reform broken in lawmaking process

Published 5:26 am Thursday, November 21, 2019

The Free Press, Mankato

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Proposals for reforming Minnesota’s broken legislative process are long overdue and should be a top priority as the Legislature begins work for the 2020 session.

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Longtime DFL proponent of reform Gene Pelowski, of Winona, chaired hearings in July and September of the House Subcommittee on Legislative Process Reform. A week ago, the committee considered proposals to change the legislative process to make it more transparent and meet deadlines.

Legislators have offered reform proposals in the past, but most have been window-dressing or political maneuvering usually announced by the minority party pumping its chest about good government knowing its proposals won’t pass the majority.

That’s not the case this year. Pelowski is in the majority. DFL Speaker of the House Melissa Hortman and Majority Leader Ryan Winkler need to take the committee’s work seriously and make some necessary changes that seem obvious to us.

The proposed changes can be made by the DFL-controlled rules committee in the House. So there’s no need to try to work something out with the GOP-controlled Senate, though that body should also reconsider some of its rules.

First and foremost, the reform subcommittee proposed looking at moving up deadlines for the budget resolution and conference committee reports. Of course, moving up deadlines only matters if those deadlines are met. But given the missed deadlines, it’s worth trying to create urgency and leave more room between committee deadlines and the constitutionally mandated end of session deadline.

Members of the subcommittee seemed to agree that policy bills should not be included in finance bills and should instead be considered separately. We agree. Current rules call for deadlines for bills getting through committee, but exempt the biggest and most influential appropriations and finance committees.

The committees faced with the biggest tasks should have to meet an appropriate deadline.

The committee also seemed to agree that conference committee bills should be available 12 hours before voting takes place. We wholeheartedly endorse that idea.

We would also urge legislators to enforce the one-subject rule for bills to avoid combining several bills in the last minute of the session that reduce transparency and limit public debate.

After years and years of special sessions and closed-door lawmaking, legislators of both parties need to take reforms seriously and act on them.