Gov. Tim Walz has been holding a series of bill-signing ceremonies that are long on ceremony but short on, well, bills.
The 2019 session of the Minnesota Legislature (including both the regular and special sessions) passed 78 bills in five months. All were signed weeks ago. Only a few were signed in public, however.
But that didn’t provide many opportunities for lawmakers and advocates (or for family members of lawmakers and advocates) to stand with Walz for the signings, to get a photograph, or to get a souvenir pen bearing the governor’s signature.
All of which is being corrected, thanks to a new Capitol fixture created – or at least updated – by the Walz administration: signing ceremonies for bills actually signed long ago, at which the new DFL governor’s signature is placed on official-looking documents with a description of the bill over an image of the state seal, all of it quite suitable for framing.
Even legislative provisions that weren’t passed separately at the Legislature — but were instead inserted into large omnibus bills — have had their own ceremonies, complete with a reasonable facsimile of a bill that describes the section of the omnibus bill being commemorated. To complete the legislative illusion, there’s a space at the bottom for Walz’s signature.
Such was the scene at the Capitol on Tuesday for the third such event since the sessions ended on May 25. On the schedule, 10 different groups were there to commemorate different pieces of legislation, which ranged from the state Legacy funding measure to the creation of a rare disease advisory council, from relief for students at the shuttered Argosy University to regulation of pharmacy benefit managers.
Groups gathered in the lobby or in the hallway outside the governor’s Capitol office for their turn. “Something the public doesn’t see is the hard work of legislating, the ability to bring coalitions together to solve problems for average Minnesotans,” Walz said before signing ersatz legislation regulating flame retardant chemicals.
When he signed the Argosy bill, Walz told the crowd: “And with that signature, it’s the law.”
While that was not technically true, it was good enough for those who’d gathered around the governor to applaud.
Individual legislators, some of whom brought children and grandchildren, have been happy to play along. “Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz today signed into law legislation to help former Argosy students …,” read a press release issued on behalf of Rep. Connie Bernardy, DFL-New Brighton, who was the Argosy bill’s prime sponsor.
For the record, the bill was officially signed into law on May 17.
While pretending to sign the Legacy funding bill — legislation that spends money raised by the special sales tax for clean water projects, outdoor heritage and arts and culture programs — Walz noted the approaching 10-year anniversary of the voter-approved tax. Lobbyist Brian Rice said that there had never before been a signing ceremony for the biennial appropriation bill.
The Minnesota Constitution does not leave much time for ceremony. Governors have just three days to sign or veto bills passed during budget sessions and dictates that the measures become law if the governor doesn’t do so within that time. Bills passed in the final three days of even-year sessions are given more time for executive action: 14 days. In both cases, the clock starts not when the bills pass but when they are “presented” to the governor.
That barely leaves enough time to even read some of the big budget bills that have become routine at the Legislature, let alone plan a bill-signing party for each one.
Thus was born these ceremonial signing events.
When he has signed a stand-alone bill, Walz would cite the bill number and the chapter of state law where it will be codified before describing and praising the bill. But because the Legislature stuffs much of its work into just a handful of omnibus bills, Minnesota doesn’t produce a lot of individual pieces of legislation, with each needing the governor’s signature to become law. Instead, a single signature applied during May made hundreds (and hundreds) of individual bits of legislative effort and imagination into law.
The budget was one of the few bills that was subject to an actual bill-signing ceremony, which took place at a St. Paul grade school May 30.
To celebrate various sections of the bill, though, Walz’s staff had produced documents such as one signed Tuesday to honor funding in the budget to maintain 4,000 pre-K slots across the state: “The Voluntary Pre-Kindergarten and School Readiness Plus Provision of the Education Omnibus Finance Bill.”