A new report released this week criticizes the growing roll of omnibus bills in the Minnesota Legislature, most of which were pushed by a triumvirate of the governor, speaker of the house, and senate majority leader.
The report was released Tuesday by the Legislative Evaluation Assembly (LEA) of Minnesota, which releases an annual report to evaluate the performance of each legislative session.
“Good lawmaking requires an open and accountable process,” said LEA President Don Lee. “Minnesota’s constitution requires each bill to embrace one subject, a requirement flouted in 2019. The house speaker and senate majority leader met with the governor behind closed doors to make deals, which they expected to be rubber-stamped by legislators without amendment or debate. The result was over 2,100 pages of legislation and nearly all of the biennial budget contained in 13 omnibus bills, passed in a one-day special session.”
The 2019 legislative session came down to the wire and most debates were resolved in last-minute meetings between Gov. Tim Walz, House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park), and Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa). Hence, the report describes Minnesota’s government as a “triumvirate,” which dates back to ancient Rome when Julius Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus informally met in 60 BC.
“The legislators acquiesced to the triumvirate and accepted 2,100 pages of legislation without time to read them. The largest bill was not released until 4.5 hours after special session began. Minnesota citizens were shut out of the process,” the report states.
It claims that the representative governance process is broken, since just 65 laws were produced in the regular session, compared to 1,169 in the 1969 session.
“Why wont the legislature break omnibus bills into separate bill, as required by Minnesota’s constitution, so they can be heard and passed transparently and accountably?” the report states.
The report points to the Wass v. Anderson 1977 Minnesota Supreme Court decision as a turning point for the growing role of omnibus bills. That ruling found that it was constitutional to insert a gas tax increase into an omnibus transportation bill.
“Thanks to this court ruling 42 years ago, omnibus bills and other multi-subject bills sold as ‘comprehensive’ approaches have become a vehicle for barter, where good, bad, and unknown provisions are combined into huge bills full of ‘deals,’” the report states.
The report acknowledges that some lawmakers believe the minority party wouldn’t be able to pass any legislation without omnibus bills, but says omnibus legislation should be reserved for “urgent passage of entirely noncontroversial legislation or for correcting clerical errors.”
As they are used now, omnibus bills “force members to accept both good and bad provisions” to initiate passage “of unpopular or controversial measures,” the report states.
“The spectacle of Minnesota governance by a group of three has little relationship to either the notion of a ‘republic’ or a ‘democracy.’ All 201 legislators have been entrusted with lawmaking power,” the report continues. “They need to honor their constitutional oaths and exercise it.”
The LEA analyzed fifteen House floor votes and fourteen Senate floor votes selected to illustrate important principles and issues in lawmaking. From there, the group awarded a handful of lawmakers whose votes most closely aligned with LEA recommendations.
“I am proud to be an LEA honoree again this year and especially glad to be one of the top scorers on the scorecard. The LEA has held legislators accountable for decades, and I support their adherence to constitutional principles as a means of evaluating whether we are doing our jobs,” said State Rep. Jeremy Munson (R-Lake Crystal).
Munson’s fellow honorees were State Reps. Steve Drazkowski (R-Mazeppa), John Heinrich (R-Anoka), Jerry Hertaus (R-Greenfield), Eric Lucero (R-Dayton), and Shane Mekeland (R-Clear Lake).
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News, The Ohio Star, and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo “Minnesota Capitol” by Gabriel Vanslette. CC BY 3.0.