The first step of the new Republican majority’s legislative plan was unveiled this afternoon. Basically, it comes down to this: fewer gavels.
Leaders announced today that the number of legislative committees will be cut from 25 to 16 in the Senate and from “38 to 40” committees to 24 in the House. The committees that have survived — in some cases, renamed — will be more closely aligned between the House and Senate than in the past.
“We campaigned on reform,” said new House Speaker Kurt Zellers in announcing the new alignment. “We must start with ourselves first.”
Two things become instantly clear from today’s announcement.
Much tidier flow chart
One, Republicans can create a much neater flow chart than DFLers. Zellers pointed to the old chart, shook his head and said, “To understand this, you had to understand math and geometry.” Indeed, the old chart was a mass of lines going hither and yon.
This new Republican flow chart, with fewer committees? Very tidy.
“We want to make government more user-friendly,” said the Senate’s new majority leader, Amy Koch.
Second, the new Republican leaders aren’t afraid to step on toes. The reduction, by slightly more than a third, of committees in the two chambers means fewer gavels to be passed out to fewer people desiring to head a committee.
Yes, some of those old committees were hopelessly obscure, but legislators can be a little on the egotistical side. It’s better to be the prince of an obscure committee than just another member of a committee with more clout.
Lobbyists filled the room for this unveiling of the new, more streamlined organizational map. Presumably, this new system changes their parts in the legislative drama as much as it changes the parts of legislators.
Under the old system, lobbyists were among the few people in the Capitol who had any idea where a bill was headed. Under the new system, however, they’ll be able to focus their persuasiveness on fewer, but more powerful, people.
Thissen praises streamlining, raises a concern
Paul Thissen, the new DFL House minority leader, pointed out the potential good and bad in the new system in a statement he released at the same time the Republicans were showing off their new design.
“A streamlined committee structure makes sense and both parties have been working on it,” Thissen said.
But he also expressed a concern.
“My fear,” Thissen said in his statement, “is that Republicans will use their new structure to reward the anonymous corporations who helped pay for many of the seats they picked up.”
Zellers laughed off Thissen’s concern as “campaign cheap shots.”
Koch said that one of the many strengths of the new system is that it brings “transparency” to the process. Even those watching at home will be able to follow the progress of a bill much more easily than in previous years, she said.
Both Koch and Zellers also said that there will be cost savings under the new system, although they didn’t push that aspect too hard.
Koch guessed that the new structure will save about $250,000 in the Senate; Zellers guessed a slightly larger savings in the House. Savings would come because with fewer committees, there will be some reduction in legislative staff and perhaps some reduction in the per diems collected by some legislators who now will serve on fewer committees.
All of this is inside baseball, the leaders acknowledged.
Many of the changes revolve around combining finance committees and policy committees. In the past, for example, a bill dealing with virtually any law or regulation had to go through both policy and finance committees. No more.
More of the game will be unveiled Wednesday when the new leadership announces committee chairs.
The leaders said that the new charts and reduced number of committees only symbolize the real reform they have in mind when the session actually begins.
But over and over again, they pointed out the reform is more than symbolism. And always, all of the leaders talked in terms of how the reforms will matter to “business.”
“One-stop shopping” for business leaders in dealing with the Legislature is how Zellers put it.
Doug Grow writes about public affairs, state politics and other topics. He can be reached at dgrow [at] minnpost [dot] com.