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Here’s one thing House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt agree on

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt: “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.”

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.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
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, House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, left, said.
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.

Ways and Means Committee Chair Lyndon Carlson
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
The amendment has long been a project of state Rep. Lyndon Carlson, the longest serving member of the House, having first been elected in 1972, who chairs the House Ways and Means Committee.
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.”


Comments (10)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Litfin on 03/09/2020 - 01:07 pm.

    O K…..so lets just meet year round with a smaller unicameral legislature and get rid of the dead wood representatives and senators like those from up here in the Detroit Lake/Park Rapids area.

    • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/09/2020 - 09:01 pm.

      How is the current situation stopping anyone from getting rid of that dead wood now?

      • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/10/2020 - 08:32 am.

        The citizenry is too lazy. It’s easier to kvetch and complain that a solution to the “problem” should be found for them, than it is to take action.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/09/2020 - 01:23 pm.

    Sometimes, I slip into my Don Quixote (i.e., hopeless causes) mode…

    In a state with more than 5 million people, an annual budget in the billions of dollars, thousands of employees, and pretty much all the other accoutrements of a sustained, major enterprise, we have a state legislature that meets for about 4 months a year, and has to finish its work by the end of May. Those legislators doing the work are compensated meagerly, but then, it’s widely regarded in some quarters as a strictly part-time job, and I’d guess that a century and more ago, it WAS a part-time job. State business was less convoluted, and those legislators living outside the state’s much smaller urban areas likely had plenty of farm work to keep themselves busy during the summer, and even more during the fall harvest.

    I’m trying to imagine what corporation with similar numbers and level of responsibility (income, outlay, employees, products, etc.) would tell its executives – with the singular exception of the chairman of the Board of Directors – to stop working and go home after 4 months on the job.

    “We don’t want to be a permanent Legislature,” said Mr. Daudt.

    “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,” said Mr. Winkler.

    Those two statements are fundamentally opposed.

    If the legislature’s responsibility is truly year-round, then legislators should live up to that responsibility and be full-time employees of the public that elected them, regardless of where they’re from. It’s the 21st century. Few legislators are full-time farmers who plant less, and therefore earn less from their farms, while they’re engaged at the State Capitol, or are otherwise only partly engaged with their farm work because they’re spending 4 months in St. Paul debating legislative ideas. The Governor’s job is a full-time one. Virtually all other state employees, from department heads to lowly clerks, are full-time state workers. I’ve yet to come across a compelling argument justifying part-time work on the part of legislators apart from the one saying they’re not paid enough to support a family if legislating is all they do.

    To the degree that that previous sentence is true, we should do something about it.

    Instead of a Constitutional Amendment to allow the legislature to call itself into special session, we should have a Constitutional Amendment to make the job of state legislator a full-time, year-round one, with adequate compensation and time during the year to attend to constituent concerns built into it. Just sayin’…

    • Submitted by Don Casey on 03/09/2020 - 02:17 pm.

      Cut the number of legislators in half and it is worth serious consideration.

      Just increasing the time currently spent by a bloated legislature — one of the nation’s largest — is a non-starter. The current legislature generates far too much legislation, wastes time running going-nowhere bills through multiple committees to keep everyone “busy.”

      And drop per diem payments and limit benefits to years actually served (no post-service benefits).

      • Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/09/2020 - 09:06 pm.

        How would the legislature perform better if it were smaller? What metrics would you use to measure that?

        Would you be telling the representative for Roseau that she wouldn’t get any per diem expenses? But my rep in Saint Paul gets to return home every night? What non-sense.

        What benefits continue beyond service in the legislature?

    • Submitted by Bob Barnes on 03/09/2020 - 02:29 pm.

      They’re already overpaid and spend about 3.9 months longer than they should. The Legislature doesn’t need to meet longer than it takes to do a budget. The less they do the better.

  3. Submitted by RB Holbrook on 03/09/2020 - 01:40 pm.

    Or, we could copy Wisconsin. The Legislature there is officially in session year ’round, but has only a few short meetings in the second half of the year. The idea behind that was to allow the Legislature to meet at its own call to conduct any business it needs to, without the need for a special session.

  4. Submitted by Frank Phelan on 03/09/2020 - 09:08 pm.

    One more reason for a full time legislature is that in the modern world, it’s virtually impossible to advance in one’s career when taking leave for citizen service for 4 to 6 months each year.

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