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DFL, Republicans at odds over House rule changes

published 2/1/2013
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House DFL leaders want to change the rules of floor debate, and Republicans are crying foul.

DFLers in the majority have proposed a new House rule that would require amendments to be filed the day before a bill goes to the floor for debate. It’s a potentially dramatic change to the culture of the House, where amendments are often offered and debated on the fly.

DFLers say the new deadline would make the legislative process more thoughtful and transparent, and cut down on mistakes made when lawmakers vote on amendments that they haven’t had time to study. Republicans say it would weaken the minority party, lessen the ability of individual members to represent their districts, and cheapen the value of floor debate.

The rule change would move the Legislature “closer and closer to Washington, D.C.,” House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) said Thursday at a House Rules and Legislative Administration Committee meeting. In Congress, he said, it’s typical for lawmakers to make speeches in a practically empty chamber. “They’re just talking to the TV. Nobody’s listening. All the decisions are made before they get to the floor, and that’s what’s going to happen under these rules.”

Daudt also said that the DFL would be “screwing the minority” with the new rules.

House Majority Leader Erin Murphy (DFL-St. Paul) denied that accusation, pointing out that both parties would have to follow the rule.

“Too often, especially when we’re meeting late into the evening, we’re debating bills and we get an amendment that no one has seen before, and we can’t really determine its impact,” Murphy said. The House Floor is a place where the average resident doesn’t have much of a chance to participate, she said. “The purpose of this rule really is to allow solid public input, to make the process more transparent for Minnesotans.”

If a bill needs to be amended, it could be returned to committee by a majority vote under the new rules, she said.

The rules would also allow the Speaker of the House to move a bill back to committee without a vote, which concerns Daudt. “I assume that we don’t want rules that allow one member of the body to circumvent the will of the body,” he said. “… This is taking away everybody’s rights.”

The filing deadline for amendments would have some exceptions. For example, it would be waived when lawmakers don’t have a certain amount of advance notice that a bill is headed to the floor.

The committee is expected to, once again, consider the proposed rules during a Monday meeting.

- Sarah Lemagie

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