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Serving Northern St. Louis County, Minnesota

Measure could lead to full-time Legislature

David Colburn
Posted 3/20/24

REGIONAL- Minnesota voters could see a trio of subjects consolidated into a single constitutional amendment question slated for this November seeking to overhaul certain operations of the Minnesota …

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Measure could lead to full-time Legislature


REGIONAL- Minnesota voters could see a trio of subjects consolidated into a single constitutional amendment question slated for this November seeking to overhaul certain operations of the Minnesota Legislature.
Likely the most controversial aspect of the proposed amendment would be language that would remove the restriction on the number of days the legislature can meet in regular session, which is currently capped at 120 days per biennium. The legislature is also restricted from meeting “after the first Monday following the third Saturday in May of any year.”
House File 4598, introduced by House Majority Leader Jamie Long, DFL-Minneapolis, would remove those constraints, effectively paving the way for a full-time Legislature. The proposal was approved last week by the House Elections Finance and Policy Committee with primary support coming from DFL legislators.
Long emphasized the necessity of rebalancing powers between the part-time legislative branch and the full-time executive branch, citing instances of executive overreach in the past. He argued that granting the Legislature greater flexibility in scheduling sessions would ensure fair representation for voters.
“This is, at its core, a balance of powers issue with the executive (branch),” Long said. “Given our limitations on calling ourselves into session we have seen abuses by executives of both parties. … Unallotment has been used six times since 1980 to unilaterally reject legislative appropriations, including three times by Gov. Tim Pawlenty. Gov. Mark Dayton line-item vetoed the legislative pay, holding it hostage to an unrelated policy demand which prompted a constitutional crisis. And, if we want to go more recent in the COVID outbreak, our emergency powers laws were based on a lack of trust that the governor would call us back into session which resulted in the most special sessions in state history. The Legislature is the closest branch to the people and our voters deserve fair representation in the legislative process. We should be on equal footing with the governor for when we can meet.”
Rep. Kristi Pursell, DFL-Northfield, supported the measure by noting the increasing workload faced by legislators, suggesting that the current time constraints hinder effective governance.
However, Rep. Ben Davis, R-Merrifield, expressed concerns that the proposed changes could lead to a permanent legislative presence, diverging from the desires of his constituents.
“This language opens the door for us to become a full-time legislature,” he said. “Folks that I serve, they want me in my district.”
Outside of the committee hearing on the bill, House Minority Leader Lisa Demuth, R-Cold Spring, issued a statement strongly opposing the proposal.
“This bill would turn Minnesota into a legislature for professional politicians,” she said. “We need legislators who understand the challenges of being a small business owner, a teacher, a farmer, and all of the other professions and experiences that each of us bring to this work.”
A second provision of the bill would change the way in which legislative districts are determined every ten years following a national census.
The Legislature is charged with redrawing district lines to reflect population shifts and ensure equal numbers of constituents per district, but the courts have routinely had to step in to determine the final outcome.
The bill would establish a 15-member independent commission to create the boundaries, composed of five DFL members, five Republican members, and five members not associated with either party.
The commission would be charged with creating districts that provide “the equal opportunity of racial, ethnic, and language minorities to participate in the political process and to elect candidates of their choice, whether alone or in coalition with others.”
There would be restrictions put in place describing when a tribal reservation can be divided between districts, and the commission would need to minimize dividing communities of interest.
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law, a nonpartisan public policy and law institute, was asked to review the redistricting proposal and provided written comments praising the plan.
“The Brennan Center strongly supports H.F. 4598, which, in our opinion, is among the best and most coherently designed redistricting-reform proposals to emerge from a legislature in recent years,” the center said. “If passed, we believe the bill would build on Minnesota’s long and storied tradition of serving as a model for states around the country looking to create an inclusive democracy that works for everyone.”
A third provision of the bill would restrict legislators from becoming lobbyists for one year after leaving office, a provision currently in House rules that is unenforceable.

Question criticism
Republicans objected to including all three issues in one ballot question, offering an amendment to separate them that was defeated by DFL legislators.
“We have a tradition in Minnesota of constitutional amendments that include multiple related subjects,” Long said. “These subjects are all good government topics, so it makes sense to be on the ballot together.”
The House bill has been referred to the State and Local Government Finance and Policy Committee for further deliberation. A companion bill in the Senate, SF 4785, cleared that chamber’s elections committee and will next be heard by the state and local government and veterans committee.
If approved by the House and Senate, the proposed amendment will, per the prescribed process in the constitution, bypass Gov. Tim Walz and proceed directly to a public vote in November.