Sine Die at the legislature (
by Steve Timmer
May 25, 2018, 9:30 PM

Children aren’t a special interest group, Eric

Eric and Cathy sat down Friday evening (the 25th) to grill [chortle] Governor Dayton about the just-ended legislative dumpster fire. The governor observed that the Republican omnibus tax and spending bills would have taken a new legislature and governor into a deficit and that they were the products of special interests.

Whereupon Eric scowls, shakes his jowls, and says, “Don’t the Democrats have special interests, too?” The governor replied, “Children aren’t a special interest.” There wasn’t any follow up, but let’s be honest, there never is on Almanac.

Parenthetically, my dream interview on Almanac is a guest replying to a question, “That’s the dumbest damn thing I’ve ever heard,” and, of course, the hosts move on to the next question on the list.

The last two legislative sessions, when the Republicans have been in charge of both houses of the legislature, have each ended with a ham-handed attempt to blackmail the governor. The first one didn’t end so well, and you would have thought that the Republican leadership would have learned a lesson. But, oh no.

Last year, the lege put a poison pill in a bill — I can’t even remember which one — that provided that if the governor vetoed a different bill, the tax bill, that the Dayton administration would automatically be defunded. Kurt Daudt, in particular, crowed about how clever he was. The governor, thinking obviously that two can play this game, signed the tax bill, but line-item vetoed funding for the legislature. The Republican leaders sputtered and howled in astonished rage. Personally, I thought it was pretty damn funny.

The legislature filed suit, but in the end, the Supreme Court of Minnesota took the Republican leaders aside and pointed to the unambiguous power of the governor to line-item veto appropriations. (There are no links here, but that’s why God created Google, people.)

This was a transparent attempt to rejigger the Separation of Powers and deny veto power of the governor provided in the Minnesota Constitution. (See the remarks about Google above.)

So, that’s one.

Having proved his point, at the beginning of the current session, the governor quietly signed legislation to fund the legislature. If it had been me, I would have required Kurt Daudt and Paul Gazelka to abase themselves in the Rotunda while I stood there with a pen to sign the bill after the leaders had made a sufficient showing of contrition. But Governor Dayton is a much better person that I am.

Fast forward to this year, and Republican leadership tried a different ploy to defeat the veto power of the governor: passing giant omnibus bills that were a melange of policy and fiscal issues on a bewildering variety of subjects in just two bills. They figured they could roll the governor and get him to sign a couple of bills that had a few things he liked in addition to a bunch of things he didn’t like. Didn’t work.

Governor Dayton promised he’d veto the bills as offered and adopted, and he didn’t waste any time doing it.

More sputtering and howling in astonished rage. You do see the pattern developing, don’t you?

Omnibus bills of the kind proffered to the governor have another constitutional infirmity: violation of the single subject clause. You see, in Minnesota, we take the separation of powers rather more seriously than elsewhere, and bills in Minnesota are supposed to be addressed to a single subject and that subject is supposed to be referred to in the title of the bill. In a thousand page bill, that is rather difficult.

The veto and line-item veto powers and the single subject clause are related to each other. The governor is the only elected official in the mix who is elected statewide. If the legislature violates the single subject clause, it can limit or nullify the veto power granted to the governor, and that violates the separation of powers. That is exactly what the Republican legislature tried this year.

It is common blackmail, really. I think it was Republican Senator Scott Newman who huffed, Well, a lot of these provisions were heard in committee. That doesn’t matter at all; it only matters what is presented to the governor. The governor doesn’t get heard in committee.

And the blackmail is continuing; the Republicans are keeping up a drumbeat, Look what the governor did to you. They are astonishing scrubs, really. Wiley E. Coyotes.

I am almost sorry that the governor did not sign the bills. If he had, it would have given somebody standing to challenge the constitutionality of the omnibus bills, take them down, and rub the Republicans noses in it again.

It should be recalled that the first “shall issue” firearms permit law was declared unconstitutional because it was attached to an unrelated (DNR, I think) bill. Apparently, Tony Cornish said, Hey, the DNR issues hunting licenses; what the diff?

I don’t know that is true, but it sounds about right, don’t you think?

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