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Minnesota Legislature

‘No easy fix:’ legislative reform subcommittee holds first meeting

The State Capitol in St. Paul. House Photography file photo

When the 2019 regular legislative session failed to produce an agreement on nearly all major budget bills needed to fund the state government for the next two years, lawmakers were forced into a one-day special session to wrap up their work.

Such special sessions have become the rule rather than the exception in recent years, and they’re one of the reasons the House Subcommittee on Legislative Process Reform was created.

“Minnesotans expect and deserve a modern, efficient, and transparent legislative process,” House Speaker Melissa Hortman said in a statement.

At its first meeting Wednesday, members received overviews from nonpartisan staff on the state’s budget process and how several House committees and divisions navigated that process during the 2019 session, as well as past process reform efforts.

Nonpartisan staff present an overview of the legislative process during the July 10 meeting of the House Subcommittee on Legislative Process Reform. Photo by Andrew VonBank

Rep. Gene Pelowski, Jr. (DFL-Winona), the subcommittee chair, said its purpose is to ensure the necessary reforms are made so the Legislature upholds its “constitutional responsibility” to end sessions on time and with a balanced budget.

“This is going to be budget driven, and it’s a complicated process … there’s no easy fix,” Pelowski said.

Pelowski said two potential reforms are currently under discussion.

One would be to use budget numbers provided by Minnesota Management and Budget’s November Forecast to begin the budgeting process in January, rather than waiting for the February Forecast, which is typically released at the end of that month.

The other would be a rule requiring 24 hours to elapse between when a conference committee report is signed and when floor action could be taken on it. That is meant to give lawmakers more time to review the final versions of bills before they must vote on them. 

House Subcommittee on Legislative Process Reform 7/10/19

The subcommittee is expected to meet again several times in the coming months to take a further look at the challenges presented by the current process and identify opportunities to try and improve it.

Pelowski presided over a pair of informational meetings last November which included a presentation by an official from the National Council of State Legislatures who discussed best practices that have helped other state legislatures.

“Everything is literally open here for discussion and possible change,” Pelowski said. “So I’d say, ‘Members start making suggestions and keep making suggestions in all of the caucuses.’”

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