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OUR OPINION: How Minnesota can end last-minute lawmaking

Will Gov. Mark Dayton reconvene the Minnesota Legislature in special session? Will Republican lawmakers agree to the Democratic governor's conditions?...

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Will Gov. Mark Dayton reconvene the Minnesota Legislature in special session? Will Republican lawmakers agree to the Democratic governor's conditions?

As of this writing, the answers to those questions still are not clear.

But here's what the recent session did make clear-as clear as the water from the most sparkling of the 10,000 lakes:

Minnesota's legislative process needs reform.

Delaying negotiations for weeks, then running major bills back and forth just before the session's close is a shameful way of doing business. It makes Minnesotans cynical and pollutes their view of lawmakers and the legislative process.

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It's got to be changed-and sooner rather than later, given Minnesota's severe highway and other stubborn problems. Streamlining the legislative process would both force lawmakers to get their work done sooner and boost congeniality by encouraging compromise and discouraging last-minute, partisan theatrics.

That sure sounds like a win-win. Luckily for Minnesotans, a bipartisan group of legislators agrees.

Lawmakers should waste no time in adopting the group's report. And if that happens, Minnesota voters should applaud this decisive response to frustration with the legislative process.

The bipartisan group of state senators-a group that includes state Sen. LeRoy Stumpf, DFL-Plummer, plus another Democrat and four Republicans-"wants to end last minute lawmaking,' the Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus noted last month.

"They have proposed adding a new legislative deadline for conference committee reports to be released one week prior to adjournment."

Here's how State Sen. Kevin Dahle, DFL-Northfield, explained the reform in a statement of his own.

"The Minnesota Constitution is very clear on when the Legislature must finish its work," Dahle wrote.

"We have no excuse for not having bills ready in time. High-level, secret negotiations in the last hours of session do an injustice to the constitutional democracy I teach high school students about in my role as a civics teacher.

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"(So) I am a strong supporter of what has become known as the 'Fourth Deadline' idea, sponsored by the bipartisan Purple Caucus, which would put a bright clear line on the calendar. It would force elected officials to give their colleagues, the press and the public enough time to read the bills thoughtfully and come to a responsible conclusion before session ends.

"This will keep negotiations from spiraling out of control, limit political gamesmanship and dramatically increase the transparency of our political system."

The proposal is called the Fourth Deadline because the Joint Rules of the Senate and House already set three deadlines for committees to move bills. Under the proposed fourth deadline, "conference committees would be required to act favorably on major appropriation and finance bills, including omnibus bills, at least one week prior to adjournment," the Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus statement explains.

Farsighted lawmakers also have proposed other reforms. This group includes Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, who has offered up such ideas as limiting the number of bills lawmakers can introduce and the number of committees they can serve on.

Those are great for the long term. But in the short term, the Fourth Deadline proposal by the Purple Caucus is the plan with the best chance of becoming policy. Minnesota lawmakers should make it happen.

-- Tom Dennis for the Herald

Opinion by Thomas Dennis
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