Minnesota House tussles over rules that govern them

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  • February 12, 2013 - 10:48 AM


For ruling Democratic House members in Minnesota, it's a move toward transparency and openness.

For the minority Republican ones, it is a power play designed to silence the party out of power and stifle debate.

A more than eight-hour debate on Monday night lit up lawmakers' passions as they fought over a new rule to require amendments be filed a day before they can pop up in House floor debate. After 1 a.m. Tuesday, lawmakers were still fighting over the proposed House rules and just beginning to show signs of stopping.

While it may sound like a minor procedural rule change, it could change the tenor of the lengthy House sessions when lawmakers banter and fight for Minnesotans to see.

"You’ll see the amendments, we’ll see the amendments," said Majority Leader Erin Murphy, DFL-St. Paul. "The public will see the amendments, as well."

During the long debate, the House's first lengthy floor session of the year, Murphy said that the repeated discussions over amendments to the rules were an example of why advance discussions would be helpful. Early filing will allow consultation and possibly agreement before members reach the floor.

A Winona DFLer and one of the House's most senior members, Rep. Gene Pelowski argued: "Good government is good politics."

Rep. Phyllis Kahn, DFL-Minneapolis, who is tied for most senior member, said she was not sure about the wisdom of the proposed rule but also had a suggestion for Republicans: find a way to work around the rule, just as she would in their place.

But Republicans saw "shenanigans" afoot that would shackle the minority members. The party out of power in the Legislature often gets to display their objections -- and propose ways to change bills, sometimes trapping the majority members into bad votes -- during House floor debates.

"This particular rule does not allow us to work together," said Rep. Joe McDonald, R-Delano.

Rep. Bob Barrett, R-Lindstrom, protested that the change "doesn’t provide sunshine, in fact it provides really a cloud of darkness."

After more than five hours, Rep. Linda Runbeck, R-Circle Pines, burst out: "This is a joke! An absolute joke!...This is a sham, a shame in Minnesota."

Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, even suggested that if the rules passed, Republicans would protest by voting against a potential capital borrowing bill. Borrowing bills require a supermajority to pass so Democrats would require Republican votes to reach that.

Despite repeatedly voiced concerns about partisanship, Republican minority members actually had more of their proposals to amend the rules during the debate than they saw voted down by 10 p.m. As the hours ticked by their batting average was dropping, and the number of proposals rejected began to approach the numbers accepted.

Update: Well into the wee hours of the morning, the House passed the proposed rules. You can see all the debate here:

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