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Prospect of 2 ‘good-government’ amendments raised, but legislative action seems unlikely

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk expressed interest in requiring a super-majority for placing constitutional amendments on the ballot. He also likes a new judicial-election process.

In this video, via the UpTake, Sen. Bakk states a $9.50 minimum wage could hurt small businesses.

Ever since Republican majorities in the Minnesota House and Senate “successfully’’ placed two amendments on the 2012 ballot, there hasn’t been a great deal of talk at the Capitol of walking down the amendment path.

The success of getting the controversial amendments on the ballot — one amendment would have restricted marriage to a man and a woman, the second would have required voters to show up at the polling place with a photo ID — ultimately backfired.

Not only did Minnesotans reject both amendments, but they also tossed the GOP out of legislative majorities.

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But Wednesday Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk raised the possibility of placing a couple of “good government’’ amendments on the ballot.

The amendment proposal that seemed most likely to get bipartisan support would change the requirements for placing a constitutional amendment on the ballot.

Under the Minnesota Constitution, a simple majority in the House and Senate is all that’s required to move a proposed amendment from legislative chambers to the ballot. The governor has no say in the process.

During a briefing between legislative leaders and reporters Wednesday afternoon, Bakk said there could be a possible push for an amendment that would require a “super-majority,”  or 60 percent, of legislators to support moving an amendment to the ballot. Such a requirement would have blocked both of the 2012 amendments from reachng the ballot.

Senate Minority Leader David Hann, who was seated next to Bakk, seemed supportive of the idea.

In fact, at the time the 2012 amendments were being supported almost exclusively by Republicans, there were GOP moderates who were concerned that they were playing with political fire by trying “to legislate by amendment.’’  Yet, those moderates bowed to the pressure of the conservative majorities and supported the amendments.

The second possible amendment concerns an old subject: Minnesota’s judicial selection process. 

Rather than competitive judicial races as Minnesota currently has, good-government types from both parties long have favored moving toward a system in which voters would either vote “up” or “down” on incumbent judges. 

If an incumbent did “lose’’ under this system, a committee in the judicial district would select five potential replacements and forward that list to the governor, who would make the final selection.

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Former Republican Gov. Al Quie long has made this a personal — though, to date — losing fight.

The problem with the current system — as most, including Bakk see it — is that when most voters come to the judicial races on their ballots, they have no clue as to the competence of the candidates.

Hann, however, said that changing the judicial selection process would “probably be a more contentious issue’’ for the GOP.  Many groups in the GOP base — for example, groups that oppose abortion — want voters to take a more, not less,  active role in judicial selection.

For his part, House Speaker Paul Thissen seemed dubious about any constitutional amendments going anywhere this session, despite his personal support for both proposals.

“My inclination,’’ said Thissen, “is no amendments.’’

In fact, the inclination of the leaders of both parties is to avoid controversy this session. Bakk, Thissen, Hann and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt all predicted a boring session.

Of course, the two sides will find plenty to fight about, and there will be controversy.

A reporter asked the leaders if “the Vikings stadium’’ will be a subject in the session. Thissen was quick to say “no,’’ and Hann and Daudt seemed to agree with him.

Bakk, however, noted that a stadium-related issue could well be headed to the Legislature. If the NFL selects the Twin Cities as a future Super Bowl site, Bakk said that the Legislature almost certainly will have to act on issues that the NFL will insist on.

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As an example, Bakk said, the league would likely require the state to waive the collection of state income taxes from players who participate in the Super Bowl. There would be other league demands as well, Bakk said, adding those same demands are placed on any state in which the Super Bowl is played.

But giving benefits to the powerful NFL will raise the hackles of people of all political persuasions.

Bonding, too, will be an issue, although at the moment, the DFL and GOP leaders don’t seem far apart on reaching agreement on what seems a “reasonable’’ amount to spend.

Another issue that will be contentious, at least on the surface, will be an increase in the minimum wage. An increase is a virtual certainty, but it won’t come without considerable  political posturing.