The Grim Results of Unchallenged Control of State Government
Eleven members of the Minnesota House of Representatives have been honored in the Legislative Evaluation Assembly’s 2014 Report on the Minnesota Legislature. Six legislators received an honorable mention.
Honorees: Representatives Mike Benson, Bob Dettmer, Steve Drazkowski, Sondra Erickson, Tom Hackbarth, Jerry Hertaus, Ernie Leidiger, Jim Newberger, Joyce Peppin, Cindy Pugh, and Duane Quam.
Honorable Mention: Senator Bruce Anderson; Representatives Daudt, Dean, Howe, Loon, and Myhra.
Analyzing the Results of Easy Lawmaking
“Changing state law is not supposed to be easy according to our constitution, but it becomes frightfully so when none of the leadership of any of the branches of government experiences effective challenges to their power,” notes LEA President John Augustine. When the judiciary, which itself is not being checked by truly competitive elections, reprimands the executive or legislative branches for overstepping their bounds, there are few real consequences for doing so. During this biennium, when the governor tried to impose union elections for all home-based care providers, the legislature stepped in and gave legitimacy to this improper exercise of power. More recently, when the Secretary of State was chastised for implementing online voter registration without legislative approval, the legislature provided approval after the fact. The judicial branch provided cover for the illegitimate way money for a new State Senate building was included in the 2013 omnibus tax bill.
There were different procedural abuses employed by the legislature in 2014, such as including in a cash-based omnibus capital investment bill a number of projects that lacked the supermajority support necessary to pass in an ordinary bonding bill. The legislature also put a state retirement-savings plan study into a bill purported to have improving economic security for women as its subject. The importance of legislative committee testimony and action was diminished in several bills after major parts that were not heard in committees were added before final floor votes. A bill to modify agencies’ recycling policies suddenly had increased recycling mandates for businesses tacked onto it, and a bill to modify lead-and-mercury recycling policies suddenly included a first-in-the-nation ban on triclosan soaps.
Another way powers of the state increased were through assigning more of them to unelected boards. The Met Council has been given more powers in 2014, as has the Commissioner of Labor and Industry for determining the pace of future increases in the minimum wage. The revival of the Public Employee Relations Board will mean that resolution of unfair-labor-practice disputes will be steered through a board of political appointees rather than the judicial branch. The deceptively-named Safe and Supportive Schools Act will impose unfunded mandates on schools to implement anti-bullying policies that allow for anonymously-sourced complaints. Rules of compliance will be established by the Commissioner of Education, and “best-practices assistance” handed down from a School Safety Technical Assistance Council stacked with bureaucrats and members of advocacy groups.
Public-employee union interests continued to get very favorable outcomes this year. The bonding bill, cash capital investment bill, supplemental budget bill, pension bill, minimum-wage bill, the phase-out of part-time peace officers, the rejection of wastewater treatment privatization, the revival of the Public Employment Relations Board–all of those bills enriched the interests of public employees without necessarily benefiting the greater public interest.
The legislature’s aggregate score dropped again this year to 34.7%, the lowest it has been this decade. The Senate (which we scored on the exact same votes as the House this year) is where we saw more bad bills going unchallenged, which is why the honorees overwhelmingly came from the House side. An exception to this pattern was the Senate registering far more opposition than the House to the online voter-registration bill. It is only speculation, but perhaps legislators in the House were concerned about the backlash they could receive from the voters this November if they didn’t embrace the convenience of online voter registration.
General Advice for Legislators Who Value Constitutionally Limited Government:
When you are in the minority there are still achievable objectives independent of legislative compromise. Our research on bills made us aware that many unfavorable bills saw little to no opposition testimony or opposition votes in committees, much less opposition on the floor. They would likely advance either way, but if people have more chance to learn of problems in bills, it will be harder to obtain broad public support for them. The other worthwhile reason to spend more time opposing bad bills when you don’t have the votes to stop them is that it slows down the process, which means fewer bad bills will sail through in the limited time available for any legislative session. Then, if you do manage to get enough support from the voters to be in a position of power where you can shape more of the agenda, resist the temptation to ignore procedural safeguards or pass an omnibus “garbage bill” containing many distinct subjects, especially those that try to insert new policy mandates into finance bills, no matter how meritorious any of the items in the bill may be when taken in isolation.
Legislators were evaluated for their voting records on 22 votes; ranging from bonding and cash capital-investment bills, to a supplemental budget bill, to wage and pension bills, to more recycling mandates, to online voter-registration procedures, to giving unelected boards more powers, to instituting a statewide program on bullying.
About the LEA:
Established in 1972, the Legislative Evaluation Assembly of Minnesota is a non-profit, non-partisan organization established to keep the citizens of Minnesota informed of both important legislation and the voting performance of each Senator and Representative in the Minnesota State Legislature. LEA bases its evaluations on the traditional American principles of constitutionalism, limited government, free enterprise, and legal and moral order with justice and individual liberty and dignity. Copies of the 2014 report, as well as previous reports, are available online at the LEA’s website: http://www.lea-mn.org; the LEA encourages the use of the material in its reports, in whole or in part, by any group or individual, given proper attribution.