Other than on ministerial functions, it is rare to see House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt co-sponsoring the same piece of legislation.
It is more common to see Winkler, a DFLer from Golden Valley, and Daudt, a Republican from Crown, going at each other on the House floor, arguing over bills or rules or process. To have them working together on a bill, especially one calling for an amendment to the Minnesota Constitution, means something.
The pair, along with Rep. Lyndon Carlson, DFL-Crystal, are sponsoring a bill, House File 3994, that would ask voters to give lawmakers the authority to call themselves into special session. Currently, only the governor can convene a legislative session called outside the constitutionally mandated regular sessions convened each year.
There are 36 states that already give their legislatures some authority to call special sessions. That Minnesota is not one of them means the governor has unequal clout at the end of sessions, say backers of the new measure, since the governor can use the prospect of calling — or not calling — a special session to get what they want.
The amendment has long been a project of Carlson, the longest serving member of the House, having first been elected in 1972, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee. After hearing Daudt talk during a closed-doors meeting of all legislators about ways to even the balance of power with the governor at the end of session, Carlson suggested Daudt might want to sign onto his constitutional amendment.
“He said do you want to sign on and I said, ‘Absolutely,’” Daudt said. “I think this is something that contributes to the problems at the end of session. Because only the governor can call us back and so there’s this mad rush.”
“If the Legislature could call itself back — with some limitations — I think it would eliminate some of that pressure at the end of session and probably make this place function better,” he said. “We don’t want to be a permanent Legislature. It’s going to be used very sparingly. If we are co-equal branches of government, which we are, we ought to be able to call ourselves back.”
Governors do not have to approve constitutional amendments, but Daudt said he would like Gov. Tim Walz to agree to the proposal.
Winkler, who said Carlson has long observed the power dynamics at the end of session between the Legislature and governors, said he was happy to sign on. “I think it’s worthy of discussion,” he said. The Legislature has a year-round responsibility to provide oversight of government, and it’s worth looking at its authorities as those responsibilities have changed, Winkler said.
He said he isn’t sure that the power in the amendment would come into play very often but said it is “more a recognition of the Legislature’s independent function in state government. The Legislature can have its own opinion about when it should be meeting in special session. And it’s common in other places.”
Amending the state constitution is relatively easy in Minnesota. A measure needs only a majority of both houses of the Legislature at the same session before going on the ballot. From there, it passes if a majority of the total votes cast in the election vote “yes” on the measure. That language means that a constitutional amendment could receive more “yes” votes than “no” votes and still not pass — if the “yes” votes aren’t a majority of all voters, something that has happened 61 times since statehood, according to research done by the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library.
Since Minnesota became a state, voters have passed 120 of 213 proposed amendments, most recently approving an amendment in 2016 to create a commission to set legislative salaries.
Compared to the other states that give their legislatures the authority to call special sessions, Minnesota’s process for doing so would be pretty easy. They could be called at the request of legislative leaders and their rules committees alone.
Should the bill pass the Legislature, here’s what would appear on the ballot: “Shall the Minnesota Constitution be amended to require the legislature to meet in special session for up to seven days upon a request by the president and majority leader of the senate and the speaker and majority leader of the house of representatives, with a majority vote of the committee with jurisdiction over legislative rules in each house.”