In final days, Minnesota’s government again shows why it doesn’t work

We have reached the stage of the Minnesota Legislature’s annual session when it is forced to cram its work into the last few days, creating the illusion that it is working. It’s not.

Since Feb. 20, hours of media coverage have been spent on the lawmakers who have, again, wasted the time they were given for considered discussion of important issues.

Gov. Mark Dayton, too, invoked the sense of crisis when he waited until this week to declare an emergency exists in the state’s school districts, asking the Legislature for help, a request that likely could have come sooner even if it might not have been the strategic move of timing that the governor was invoking.

Invigorating debates on important issues will have to wait, the legislators say, because there just isn’t time to have them. Why is that?

Pick an issue — any issue — and you’ll find a frustrated public that can’t figure out how lawmakers can cash their paychecks and still have mirrors in their homes.

“I am angry,” Vijay Dixit, who lost a daughter in a distracted driving crash in 2007, tells the Star Tribune about a bill that can’t get out of committee. “Here is a chance to do something with good sense, good governance and do what is right. This is very annoying.”

Efforts to do something about the carnage on the roads have stalled in the Legislature for the last few years, and yet many people thought this was the year there could be a public policy debate on the issue.

Suckers.

“We’re trying to decide if it’s the right thing in the days we have left,” Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa.

And that’s the key phrase “in the days we have left.” The bill is likely dead as stand-alone legislation because legislative leaders maneuvered it down the calendar where it could not compete with “more important” issues that have also been ignored on purpose. It could still surface in the middle of the night, snuck into a public safety bill.

“It’s frustrating because I don’t know what the opposition is,” Greg Tikalsky, of New Prague, tells the Strib. He lost his father to distracted driving in 2015. “Until they are personally affected, they won’t listen. I don’t wish that upon anybody.”

So far this session, Dayton has signed only a handful of bills, including legislation providing money for the Legislature to operate, new contracts for state worker, and restricting animals that can be considered service animals. The latter took only 10 days to speed through the Legislature. [Update: Four bills were signed today: Designating a section of U.S. Highway 12 within the city limits of Wayzata, Minnesota as “Officer Bill Mathews Memorial Highway”, modifying the Safe at Home program requirements to allow participants who fear for their safety to maintain a confidential address, regulating credit unions, and providing asset protection for health savings and medical savings accounts.]

The problem here should be obvious. Floor debates will be compressed into the final days, occur when normal people can’t pay attention, and focus on legislation whose unintended consequences can’t be realized nor considered and debated in the rush to finish before a constitutional deadline.

Four years ago, the Minnesota Legislature was in the same position when it quickly passed a law which prevented child protection agencies from using prior reports of maltreatment of children when deciding on social services.

That’s how 4-year-old Eric Dean ended up dead in Pope County because of the change in how child abuse reports are handled.

The DFLer who sponsored an omnibus bill — a stew of bills that were thrown into a larger pot in the last days of the session — said lawmakers intended to do the opposite of what the provisions actually did.

Frustrated bill sponsors, who got a 45-percent pay raise last year, will try the same tactic in the next couple of weeks, jamming their legislation into omnibus bills as amendments, none of them getting the considered debate and public airing they deserve.

  • jon
  • MikeB

    We get the government we deserve

  • Gary F

    I’m not sure how they get paid, if monthly over the year or just during the session.

    For starts, no per diem if they don’t get their work done on time. Second, time the paychecks until June 30, if any overtime or special session is granted, their pay gets cut, slightly at first and gradually more on some sort of sliding scale.

  • BReynolds33

    I think the head line is redundant. I mean, don’t “government” and “doesn’t work” mean the same thing?

    • Erick

      Let’s not confuse “Lawmakers” with “Government” The vast majority of government workers provide effective service for less than they might earn in the private sector.

      • The governor isn’t a “lawmaker” though.

        the post is pretty clear about what the focus is.

      • Al

        Much, much less. 😀

      • BReynolds33

        Which is fine, but the comment wasn’t about government workers, but government as an institution.

    • Postal Customer

      No.

      • BReynolds33

        I cannot imagine a “service” the government claims a monopoly on to justify stealing my money that cannot be better provided by the private sector. But, you know… mah roads!

        • Jack Ungerleider

          Fire and police protection.

          • BReynolds33

            Fire departments existed long before government took them over and are still most often made up of volunteers. Private security is far more efficient in terms of cost and are actually accountable to someone other than themselves when they murder unarmed children.

          • Jack Ungerleider

            I grew up in an area of New York served primarily by volunteer Fire Departments. My brother is a life member of the department in the area we grew up in. But its a suburban area and housing has gotten very expensive. The younger guys (and gals) that might want a be the next generation of volunteer fireman end up having to move out of the area because they can’t afford to live there. My brother knows it’s just a matter of time before there Fire District has to hire some full time professional fire fighters who are supplemented by volunteers. Also the fact that its a volunteer fire department doesn’t keep them from “stealing” your money. You still have to pay Fire District taxes as part of your property tax bill.

            As far as the police are concerned, if you and I are neighbors but contract with different private security firms, who investigates a crime that results in damage to your house and my garage?

          • BReynolds33

            Anecdotal evidence is great, isn’t? Always seems to only support our own point of view. Pay a fire district tax still suggests it is a government agency. Fire protection completely outside of government control existed for the vast majority of human history. yet, here we are. We made it.

            What happens if the border of a city or county goes between houses and the same situation happens? Why couldn’t both firms investigate? Why can they not coordinate like other private businesses? Or the way insurance companies do if my tree falls and hits your house?

          • Jerry

            I can see no problem with assigning a profit motive to fire fighting. I mean, we do that with health care and that has caused no problems, right?

          • BReynolds33

            Because we have the best healthcare available in the world, it just happens to be expensive? Healthcare is a different beast than fire fighting.

            And no one said anything about profit margins. If you’ll notice the use of the word “volunteer” throughout, it will help. Volunteers generally are not there to profit. And the system worked for most of human history, so the evidence is not on your side.

          • Jerry
          • Jerry

            And we have great healthcare, for a developing country. And I didn’t know volunteer firemen provide their own equipment. But I’m sure Jim the school janitor/volunteer firefighter is totally prepared to fight that high-rise fire.

            The one thing most privatization efforts have in common is that you end up paying more for less.

          • BReynolds33

            I’m not sure what the point of posting a list of fires is. I never disputed there were fires.

            Great healthcare for a developing country? Now you’re just using hyperbole that doesn’t even make sense. A lot of the word “routine heart transplant” in Somalia? A lot of cancer treatments being developed in Iraq? That’s one of the weakest comments I’ve seen.

            Our healthcare system is broken, no one disputes that. But a developing country? Not even kind of.

            As for fighting fires at a high rise, why can the high rise owners not band together and hire a fire protection crew? There’s no reason they can’t, they’ve just been programmed to believe the government will provide that.

            The argument that you get less for more cost in privatization is not provable with data. Economics simply does not agree with you.

          • Jerry

            I didn’t realize there was consensus in economics. I guess economists should just give up, it’s been decided.

            To have a great healthcare system, it is not enough for it to be advanced, it also has to be available to everyone. Ours is not.

            If you actually read the list of fires, you might have noticed that almost all of the most devastating ones occurred before the widespread adoption of professional fire fighting services.

            The nice thing about government provided services is that in theory, they should be available for all, regardless of wealth. Private services are unequal at their very core. Forgive me if I don’t want to live under the DeVos/Prince family system. Seems like life would be rather nasty, brutish, and short.

          • BReynolds33

            There’s pretty strong consensus in economics that government is a drain of resources, not a resource.

            Our healthcare system is actually available to everyone. It just isn’t in fair ways. Making it free for everyone also does not make it fair for everyone. Ask literally any country with socialized medicine. Or the family of the 2 year old in England that was forced to die rather than let him be taken to Italy because the all powerful government said no.

            I apologize for not reading your mind on what a random link was meant to tell me.

            The theory of government is great. The practice is awful. If you think our government services do not favor the rich, we may be further apart than we can ever bridge. Private services are, indeed, unequal. There is no right to equal services. Not human, natural or Constitutional.

            I don’t really care what system you want to live under. DeVos is an idiot, but the federal DoE is an unconstitutional mess that shouldn’t exist. What life “seems like” it would be and what it actually would be are two different things.

          • Jerry

            If only we could live in the government free utopia that is Somalia, where justice and freedom is all determined by individual power.

          • BReynolds33

            I sometimes wonder what it must be like to be a walking, typing statist meme. Now I know. Government has no ability to do much of anything except steal the result of our labor and give it to others at the whim of the mob.

            Again, I wonder if you have seen how the government benefits the wealthy and powerful. You’re really going to tell me you feel the government is set up to benefit regular people?

            Sweatshops were ended by unions. Private organizations made up of voluntary assembly of workers to benefit their own good. Tenements are the result of a lack of government? Huh. I wonder how they got there in the first place, then.

            i do think police forces are bad. because they murder unarmed people and children and face no consequence. At very least a private security force would be able to be fired. Of course, you’re applying the rules for private security set forth by our current bungling leaders.

            No one said anything about lynch mobs or vigilantes, but great work knocking down that straw man.

            In your investigations of the internet, maybe take a peek at the “move to Somalia fallacy.” Maybe you could learn why that is a running joke among those who do not believe they need a government to tell them what the right thing to do is.

          • Jerry

            , I wish I lived in the magic fantasy land that libertarians think they live in, where things just magically work out, with out the need of any governing bodies. Pollution? Free market will fix that. Exploitation of workers? Free market again. Crime, education? Free market is the answer. Where there is no more holy book than Wealth of Nations, and no greater power than the Invisible Hand.

          • BReynolds33

            I wish I did, too. Instead I am forced, under threat of deadly force at the hand of the state, to live in a world where there is no higher power than the government and nothing more holy than licking the boots of your oppressors.

          • Jerry

            Lol

          • BReynolds33

            Well argued. Enjoy your boot polish today.

          • Jerry

            When the argument has reached absurdity, there is no response but laughter.

          • BReynolds33

            Fair enough. When your definition of absurdity is “not paying 50-60% of your income to be under constant threat of being shot for no reason and your supposed rights violated on a near daily basis,” I guess you have to convince yourself that laughing helps. I choose not to join you in your delusion.

          • Jerry

            Government at least has the ability to be a public good. Privatization only serves the wealthy and strong. But sure, lets go back to the days of tenements and sweatshops. Because that is the free market at its purest form.

            You think public police forces are bad? Private firms operate with even less oversight. I don’t want to know whether call for help is going to answered based on profit margins. Or maybe we can go back to vigilante justice. Lynch mobs aren’t that bad, right?

          • Jerry

            I guess mankind survived without electricity and plumbing for most of human history, so they are not really necessary

          • BReynolds33

            As for electricity and plumbing… both private inventions / discoveries and originally (in the case of plumbing) done by private companies, and to this day electric companies are private sector businesses. Not great examples.

          • Jerry
          • BReynolds33

            Is this a debate technique? Just keep posting wikipedia articles? The Rural Electrification Act paid private businesses to run electrical lines. I’m not sure what the point is? You’re pointing out one of the biggest government boondoggles in history and wanting me to see what a great thing it is to steal money from people to give it to other people to give them things they didn’t ask for? All so you can, what? Feel good that we did some great thing?

          • Jerry

            So those who live in areas that were not profitable to electrify would see its benefits.

  • John O.

    An old saying that has made its way through many state capitols over the years is simple, but eloquent: “Nobody’s life, liberty or property is safe while the legislature is in session.”

    • BReynolds33

      Or the Minnesota Supreme Court, apparently.

  • MrE85

    I have never seen it surveyed, but I would wager most Minnesotans couldn’t name even one of the two state lawmakers who represent them in Saint Paul. Many don’t bother voting in primaries or midterm elections. Fewer still caucus with the political party they feel closest to. So why should we be surprised when we see sessions like this?

    In fact, a relatively few party leaders are responsible for the pace of work in the Capitol, and which bills are debated and which are not. Right now, they are all Republicans. After November, that may change. Or not.

    It remains to be seen if the Legislature will run any smoother under new management.

    • // So why should we be surprised when we see sessions like this.

      That one’s easy. Because we expect more and the expectation is valid even if you don’t go to caucuses.

      Returning this to the fault of the voters is a distraction. This is a systemic problem.

      • MikeB

        Only the voters can hold them accountable for this behavior. Not enough care about the process to make a difference.

      • MrE85

        The House and Senate leadership have names: Daudt and Gazelka. They, and the committee chairs they appoint are “the system.”

        I don’t know them personally, I’m sure they are good-hearted people. But it’s clear that work is not getting done on time.

        If you expect better leadership, elect better leaders. That begins with the state Representative and Senator you get to vote for. If you send a honest, hard-working lawmaker to St. Paul, chances are they will vote for a equally honest, hard working people to run the legislative sessions.

        That’s the theory, in any case…

        • The state’s voters don’t elect legislative leaders. A plurality of voters in one district does.

        • JamieHX

          “…I’m sure they are good-hearted people.”

          *I’M* not sure of that.

    • Rob

      Expecting a nominal level of competence and accomplishment of basic legislative tasks by those at the capitol has nothing to do with the fact that some people don’t vote or attend political caucuses.

  • Mike

    “Efforts to do something about the carnage on the roads have stalled in the Legislature for the last few years, and yet many people thought this was the year there could be a public policy debate on the issue.”

    With the general understanding that big money and special interests control every aspect of our government, I’d love to hear from someone knowledgeable on this specific issue why it is that a bill toughening sanctions on distracted driving can’t get out of committee. Who, exactly, is against it?

    On a more basic level, I’d like to know why speed limits are (sometimes) enforced on freeways but never – as far as I can tell – on Minneapolis streets where drivers go 50 mph in a 30 mph zone.

    • John

      I’ll take a stab at your last paragraph:

      It’s a priority for the state patrol (responsible for freeways – I think) to enforce speed limits. It’s not a priority for Minneapolis Police Department (responsible for Minneapolis city streets) to enforce speed limits. Not something that will be fixed at the state level.

  • KariBemidji

    With a short session and part time legislators, is it time to dump the House and Senate and go to a Unicameral legislature? Two sets of hearings, two votes, conference committees, final votes. Let’s streamline and speed up the process.

    • Remember that committee a decade or two ago that looked at ways to have a more efficient legislative body? That report couldn’t be thrown in the trash quickly enough .

      • KariBemidji

        I know. It’s a pipe dream that it would ever happen. If a constitutional amendment can’t force them to give themselves a pay raise, I doubt we can force them to eliminate half of the workforce.

      • Mike Worcester

        Kind of like the Growe Commission on Electoral reform that was supposed to deal with endorsements, primaries, etc.

        “Hey, that’s awesome! Thanks for doing that! And now let the gathering of dust commence…”

        https://www.leg.state.mn.us/docs/2005/other/050564.pdf

    • Mike Worcester

      This topic comes up often and the question I ask, from the perspective of a poli sci nerd, is — how would having one body rather than two make a difference?

      • Well, in the past, the House — considered the more juvenile of the two — has wasted time on showbiz legislation knowing that the “adults” – the Senate — would kill it. So maybe it would reduce some of the more theatrical elements of a session.

  • Rob

    Hello, we’re from the government, and we’re here to do eff-all for you.

    • Al

      Ahem, *elected* government. The rest of us over in the executive branch still plug along, trying to make sense of the ish pushed through in these non-sessions, with minimal funding and/or connection to what customers actually need…

  • Gary F

    Remember when every other year was a “bonding year”? Now they have to spend more and more each year and do policy work during “bonding years”.

    • Jeff

      Bonding years are traditionally even numbered years. The 2016 didn’t pass so they did one in 2017.

  • AL287

    Mark Dayton is the definition of the word “public servant.”

    He began his long public service career in the inner city schools of New York and continued from there.

    He is not a powerful orator but the man speaks from his heart and truly acts in the best interests of the citizens of Minnesota.

    All citizens of Minnesota.

    Compared to Donald Trump, he’s a saint.

    I’m sorry he’s not running again and with the health problems he has dealt with over the last two years, I can’t blame him.

    He more than deserves a little R&R and some well earned time with his family.

    Okay, Republicans. It’s your turn to rake him over the coals of indignation and outrage.

    As for me and mine, we’ll take Mark Dayton over ANY Republican any day you choose.

  • Jeff

    I seem to recall that there’s one party in control of the legislature and sets the priorities. I think that party considers good government to be getting nothing done. So I’m not surprised. I also recall they spent a lot of time on important issues like preempting local laws around minimum wage and plastic bags. Also the stay right except to pass got a lot of talk (I actually liked that one).

  • Billy

    When you have a governor who thinks he is King and tells you one thing at the start of the session and then comes to the table in the 23rd hour and says he wants something else, of course government isn’t going to work. Gov. Dayton has never negotiated in good faith with the GOP and then stomps his feet and throws a tantrum like the rich little spoil child he is when he doesn’t get his way or says he had no idea it was in the bill when he signed it into law. Long story short, he is the most incompetent person ever to hold the title of governor in MN and that is why government doesn’t work in MN.

    • // negotiated in good faith

      Can you be specific with regard to the distracted driving bill cited?