SAINT PAUL, Minn. – Rep. Jamie Long (DFL – Minneapolis) and Sen. Lindsey Port (DFL – Burnsville) have introduced a bill to give the Minnesota legislature the opportunity to meet year-round. Under this legislation, Minnesotans would be able to vote for a constitutional amendment that removes restrictions on when the state legislature can meet for regular session.
“The state’s challenges don’t stop in May, and we shouldn’t stop working for the people then either,” said Rep. Long. “We should follow the lead of states like Wisconsin, Michigan, and Ohio by stepping up to meet the complex issues of a 21st century economy.”
Under current law, the state legislature can’t meet in regular session for more than 120 total legislative days or after the first Monday following the third Saturday in May. A constitutional amendment is required to remove these restrictions. The legislation introduced by Rep. Long and Sen. Port would give Minnesotans a chance to vote on the proposed amendment during the 2022 general election.
“Being a legislator should not require you to be independently wealthy,” said Sen. Port. “We lose talented legislators every session because they struggle to manage what for all practical purposes is a full-time job with the need for other employment.”
In Minnesota, most legislators need to have a job outside of the legislature in order to make a living. This may be a barrier for low- and middle-income Minnesotans. It can also lead to high turnover rates, which reduce the number of experienced legislators serving in state government and make members more reliant on lobbyists.
"The short timeframe for the Legislative Session makes it incredibly difficult for legislators to give the attention needed to all of the critical issues facing Minnesotans,” said Speaker Melissa Hortman. “Moving to a full-time Legislature would give Minnesotans a greater voice in their government and more time for us to more thoroughly address the problems we face.”
Ten states currently have full-time legislatures, including Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois. In most of these states, there are no restrictions on when legislators can meet, and the regular session is significantly longer in states that still have some restrictions. Serving in the legislature is a full-time job, and lawmakers are compensated accordingly. Most can make a living without taking a second position outside of the legislature.
“The compressed schedule forces us to legislate using a handful of large omnibus bills,” said Minority Leader Melisa López Franzen. “The public and legislators would be better served if we had the time to dedicate to debate on individual bills.”
Budget forecasts are released every year in late February, giving legislators less than three months to determine how billions of dollars will be allocated. Lawmakers are also responsible for considering and passing hundreds of policies during this brief period. The compressed schedule may force legislators to focus on developing a budget, which means spending less time on policy work. It also forces legislators to rely on omnibus bills, packages of legislation that may contain dozens of individual bills.