Minn. House declines to set mandatory trip reporting rule

Minnesota House members have turned aside a proposal that would force them to file public reports about travel paid for by an outside organization.

During debate over a budget bill Thursday, Rep. Tina Liebling, DFL-Rochester, attempted to make quarterly reports on paid trips mandatory.

“The public has a right to know when we are taking trips on someone else’s dime,” Liebling said.

National Conference of State Legislatures, the American Legislative Exchange Council and other organizations sometimes foot the tab for lawmakers to attend conferences, where they hear about ideas in other states or network with others in their positions. There have been scattered reports of international travel by state legislators paid for by groups with controversial ties or that could have business before lawmakers.

Liebling abandoned her push after Republicans successfully changed the wording to make the trip reporting rule optional for the House.

Rep. Sarah Anderson, R-Plymouth, said existing guidelines are strong enough to confine travel to official business while other lawmakers said the wording was too vague.

“I don’t argue with the merit of what Representative Liebling is trying to do here. I just argue, is this the appropriate place to have it?” Anderson said.

Lawmakers debated the disclosure requirement for nearly 30 minutes.

“We honor the people who put us here by being as transparent as possible,” said Rep. Laurie Halverson, DFL-Eagan. “It baffles me that we have to debate whether or not we’re going to be transparent with the public.”

Rep. Ron Kresha, R-Little Falls, said lawmakers should already be voluntarily disclosing the information or offer details when asked by constituents. He said the proposed change had a political motive in an election year.

“I hope that we’re not suggesting that there’s some impropriety going here or, my goodness, that there’s a lack of transparency,” Kresha said. “If you’re taking it to that step, look inside your soul and ask yourself if you’re taking trips I shouldn’t be taking, because that’s a whole another matter.”