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Dick Palmer: Don't hold your breath

Once again there is talk about returning the Minnesota Legislature to every other year sessions. Don't hold your breath on this one. The concept makes a great deal of sense, but the makeup of the current legislative body does not bode well for a ...

Once again there is talk about returning the Minnesota Legislature to every other year sessions. Don't hold your breath on this one.
The concept makes a great deal of sense, but the makeup of the current legislative body does not bode well for a serious look at this issue. The political barriers are too thick to break through and besides, the Minnesota Legislature, once called one of the best citizen legislatures in the nation, is now pretty much a fulltime effort with many elected senators and House members living full time off their salaries and accumulating benefits.
Let's just say Minnesota's legislative body has lost its citizen image, and it would take a real miracle to turn this effort around.
Gov. Jesse Ventura has been pushing for a change in legislative direction since he took office a couple of years ago. He is convinced every other year sessions would not minimize the responsibility of representative government, and he is absolutely right on this one.
Until the 1973-74 session, the Legislature did indeed meet every other year handling about 3,000 bills in addition to funding a bi-annual budget and providing bonding money for the state's infrastructure.
This all changed when a DFL controlled Legislature, with former Gov. Wendell Anderson at its side, changed the rules and met annually. The concept was to pass a budget bill during the odd year sessions and then address bonding bills during the even year sessions. A commendable menu, but both issues have overlapped and budgets and bonding issues are addressed every year. In addition, the number of bills introduced has also increased considerably as well. All this deserves some comment here.
Today the Minnesota Legislature is a professional body, a far cry from its original intent. There was a time when average citizens could seek state office and not jeopardize their primary occupations. The Legislature met from January to April or May every other year and, in most cases, average citizens could arrange their work schedules to serve both masters. Today that has all changed. If you live in the Twin Cities metro area, serving in the Legislature and keeping your job is more palatable. But for outstate legislators it is all but impossible unless you are a school teacher or work in another government agency that will protect your job while you are serving.
That's only one side of this equation. Having a citizen legislative body that meets every other year would put more emphasis on local government control. Counties, municipalities and school districts would be required to get more involved in the process and local legislators would be their instruments, not their directors as seems to be the case now.
Discussing this issue is healthy and should not be ridiculed by our professional legislative leaders. Discussing change is always an important part of representative government.
Dick Palmer is the former editor and publisher of the Budgeteer News. He may be reached by telephone at 729-6470 or by e-mail at RPalmer341@aol.com .

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