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Reform possibilities forwarded

Recommendations sent forth by a House committee are intended to improve the legislative process, even if members couldn’t agree on a process to submit the suggestions.

The House Governmental Operations, Reform, Technology and Elections Committee agreed to submit a document to legislative leaders, with a recommendation that the 2009 Legislature consider some of the changes. “The changes in this report come from ideas suggested from a variety of sources: House members, lobbyists and members of the public,” it states.

However, it also states that the ideas were discussed, but not voted upon, by the committee. That disappointed some members, including Rep. Jeanne Poppe (DFL-Austin) and Rep. Mark Olson (IR-Big Lake), who suggested that votes should be taken on the different ideas. There was also talk of somehow noting which items lacked unanimity, but that did not occur.

“This is just a guide,” said Rep. Gene Pelowski Jr. (DFL-Winona), the committee chair. “Any action will have to occur after the election with whoever is in charge.” He also reminded members that a single change could have a ripple effect, sometimes big.

Among the recommendations under the committee structure heading:
• House and Senate committees with similar jurisdiction should facilitate joint hearings;
• each House member should serve on fewer committees, which would be accomplished by having fewer committees and fewer members on each committee;
• all committees should have jurisdiction over both policy and finance matters; and
• members should be permitted to designate one or more bills as priority bills, with a requirement that committees hear and vote on them, provided there is a Senate companion.

Rep. Neil Peterson (R-Bloomington) questioned if that would be practical, to which Pelowski admitted it could be hard for a large committee. Rep. Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) suggested it would be worth a try, adding that “to the extent possible” could be added to the item.

Potential floor procedure changes include:
• amendments must be pre-filed and made available to the public before consideration;
• time limits for debate, and limiting the number of times a member can speak on an issue;
• bills should be taken up in the order published on a calendar; and
• prohibiting the House from meeting after midnight.

The recommendations also suggest that conference committees meet at times that would encourage more public participation, and that they do all their work in public instead of emerging from behind closed doors saying a deal has been reached.

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