House rules change rankles Republicans

Democrats in the Minnesota House are proposing to change how the House operates during floor debates.

The plan would require proposed amendments to be filed 24 hours before the debate on a bill starts. It’s a dramatic departure from current rules that allow members to draft and propose changes to legislation as members are debating it.

House Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul, said she’s making the change to give lawmakers and the public more time to consider proposed changes to legislation.

“The floor debate is where Minnesotans have the least amount of access,” Murphy said. “When amendments are being drafted on the floor and then debated on the floor, it’s hard for representatives to be able to talk to constituents and get answers to questions as to what it means.”

Murphy chairs the House Rules Committee, where the rule change is likely to be debated today.

Republicans are furious with the proposal.

“What they’re doing here is Washington-style politics,” said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown. “I don’t think anybody thinks that government in Washington runs better than Minnesota. Why are we going to Washington-style rules?”

Daudt says the plan would also limit a lawmaker’s ability to take the temperature of the public on a particular bill. For example, he said there have been times when lawmakers have heard ideas from lobbyists and constituents that were eventually drafted as amendments.

“As interactive as we are in today’s day and age, constituents can call us or text us or Facebook us or Twitter us and say there’s a huge problem with this bill,” Daudt said. “This basically removes the public from participating in debate over the last 24 hours.”

Daudt said Democrats are afraid of robust debate. But Murphy argued there won’t be any restrictions on the length of floor debates. She said the change would just allow lawmakers to be fully informed as they prepare to debate a bill.

“We think that giving everyone access to the amendments before the debate will allow us to facilitate the discussion,” Murphy said.

Murphy said the proposed rules would also restrict reintroducing amendments that have already been voted on by the full House.

It isn’t clear whether the proposed changes would lengthen or reduce the time it takes for the House to debate a bill.

  • Chris

    I think the rule change is a prudent move. Last time the GOP was in the minority, they kept submitting an interminable series of amendments on every bill, some on the backs of envelopes at their desks while the bills were being debated. I remember some of the GOP Reps running for Governor last time around referring to it as “the amendment strategy” and bragging about the role they played in bogging everything down and poisoning the atmosphere at the Capitol.

  • Kevin Watterson

    It would have been very easy – and very pleasurable – to keep the DFL’s gag rule when we took the majority in 2011. A little payback in politics always feels good. Instead, we took the high road and got rid of the rule because it was the right thing to do.

    This new rule from House Democrats is equally wrong. It’s a slap in the face to our show of good faith. Repealing this new gag rule would also be the right thing to do, but I hope the next Republican Speaker has a long memory.

  • PLEASE educate me why this is bad ?

    John Boehner said he wanted “to make legislators legislate” so in developing the Republican Party’s the Pledge to America, “we say that the text of all bills should be published online for at least three days before coming up for a vote. No exceptions. No excuses.”

    I thought the objective at the Congressional level was to ensure that there was no “hidden” pieces in bills — like South Dakota’s Republican Sen. John Thune, a former DM&E lobbyist, who quietly promoted a tenfold increase in Federal Railroad Administration’s lending authority and elimination of requirements that applicants show inability to raise private financing.

    Without those changes, the DM&E project would have withered. But Congress, by approving Thune’s last-minute change to a transportation bill, set the stage for his railroading friends to attempt to make breathtaking use of their various privileges, with taxpayers financing the effort. The DM&E backdoor deal lead to the defeat of Gil Gutknecht.

    When Boehner said “three days” that was a breath of hope for fiscal sanity.

    Why would we want Minnesota legislators to have to vote on Amendments without giving them and the taxpayers a chance to read them ?

    PLEASE educate me.

  • Margaret Martin

    Chris, that’s inaccurate. In the House, An amendment must be submitted to the revisor desk, drafted in proper form, signed by the member or members introducing it and seven copies are submitted to the chief clerk’s desk. The chief clerk makes copies that are passed out on the floor. Sometimes there are pauses for the chief clerk’s office to catch up on the copy and distribution work. The senate has an electronic system. No backs of envelopes involved.

    Putting up the amendments ahead of time will just make the debate less of a debate and more staged. Lobbyists will have more time to put pressure on members if they don’t like an amendment, so expect to see more group noise, less civil discussion. The average citizen doesn’t have the time to hang around the Capitol and wait for amendments to come up.

  • I find no issue with requiring 24 hours notice. You can’t tell me it’s in the public’s best interest to drop 100 amendments to an omnibus finance bill at the last minute.

    In fact, if I were in charge, I’d go even further: No floor amendments at all. Any attempt to amend a bill on the floor would send the bill and amendment back to the appropriate committee for consideration, where the public has a chance to weigh in at a scheduled meeting. No more gotcha amendments that are nothing more than campaign lit fodder.

  • This is nothing more than a blatant attempt to prevent vulnerable first term DFL members from voting on amendments that would be popular in their conservative districts. If you restrict the time the minority has to submit amendments you restrict the number of amendments that can be debated. Furthermore, requiring amendments to be submitted on Friday for bills that will be heard on Monday is a huge impediment to legislators meeting with and listening to their constituents and submitting an amendment when they return to the Capitol after a weekend. This is a very frequent practice, particularly with rural legislators. Yet another anti-rural slap in the face from House DFLers who are dominated by Mpls and St. Paul lawmakers.

  • Margaret Martin

    Nathan, remember that minority amendments are doomed to failure. It’s the only way that a member in the minority has to give voice to what their objections are to a bill. Especially in omnibus bills that’s important. Suppose a member has an objection to sections of an important bill. If they vote no on the whole bill then they have no record of what they did support and what they didn’t. Call it what you like but voters have less information about what a member stands for with fewer roll call votes on fewer amendments. there are some state legislatures that have very few roll call votes. It’s a kind of complicity between the parties that avoids accountability.

    In 2010, I remember the DFL putting up delete all amendments on the floor for even complicated omnibus bills. Interesting that they would give that up or will the rule include authors amendments? It means that they won’t be able to engage in arm twisting of their own members right up until the last minute.