addresses the single-subject rule, the Otto lawsuit and Davies' work
to stop the single-subject violations. The column also discusses the
weakening of the governor's veto power when substantive bills are
attached to the must-pass budget bill, giving the governor little
option to veto policy changes with which she or he might disagree.
Davies explained to the Civic Caucus that
there are two issues in the Otto case: (1) Does the Legislature have
the authority or power to change the role of the Constitutional
Office of State Auditor? (2) Can Otto's office be treated this way
in an appropriations bill in violation of the single-subject rule?
Davies has signed on to an ACLU amicus
brief supporting the second issue in Otto's case. "If she prevails
on the single-subject rule part of the case, that will help us," he
said. An interviewer noted that Otto is suing on the basis of her
office, not as a citizen, and that the amicus brief is saying
we don't want things done this way in the Legislature.
When asked what he thinks the outcome of
the lawsuit will be, Davies did not want to hazard a guess. But he
noted that the court system is reluctant to confront the Legislature
on its procedural misbehaviors.
Davies offered several possible solutions
to the single-subject problem:
- Perhaps the governor could refuse to sign any bills that
violate the single-subject requirement.
- Amend the provision in every budget bill that says every
appropriation lapses at the end of the fiscal biennium. Instead,
it could be amended to say that every--even any
non-money--provision of each budget bill lapses at the end of the
fiscal biennium. That would include policy provisions contained in
budget bills, as well as appropriations. He has arranged for the
reviser of statues to draft such an amendment.
- The DFL could make legislative procedure a major election
issue in 2018. "Win or lose, that would bring forth a response to
the single-subject issue," he said. There is a precedent for that,
Davies noted. In 1971 and 1972, the DFL made legislative procedure
a major issue. "It was quite successful," he said. "If that became
a campaign issue in 2018, legislators would respond."
In response to an interviewer's suggestion
that we amend the state Constitution, Davies said, "We don't have to
change the Constitution to get a powerful tool to deal with the
single-subject problem." He noted that all other states, but not
Congress, have single-subject rules and they follow them.
The interviewer asked several questions:
"Why, if the single-subject requirement is in the Constitution, is
it not thought of as other rights are, such as freedom of religion?
Shouldn't it be interpreted tightly? Isn't this an individual right
that every resident of Minnesota has?"
"All citizens deserve legislation that has
one subject," Davies responded. "The judiciary looks at it as a very
important rule, but should the judiciary interfere with the
procedures of the legislative branch? Free speech is a little
different from inside baseball." The judicial branch has respect for
the Legislature as a coordinate branch of government, he said, and
is "reluctant to butt into its procedures."
2. Abandonment of subcommittees in the
Davies' concern: The Legislature
has abandoned the use of subcommittees, even though they still could
be used. It's a real problem that the Legislature has adopted a
number of procedures that interfere with the educational part of the
legislative process, Davies said. "The education of legislators in
the passing of a bill is so important."
"During my 24 years in the Legislature, my
most joyous times I spent were in meetings of three or five people
in a subcommittee," he said. "You get more work done if people have
a chance to give input and help shape a bill. As soon as you start
talking about actual words and suggesting how actual words will
affect society, there's less ideology. It's so much fun and the
morale of the subcommittee members rises as they feel this impact.
They quickly become better legislators."
"You discover more wisdom in legislative
members in subcommittees than they get to show otherwise," he said.
"Any person who wins elected office has something to contribute."
"New freshmen at the Legislature are
twiddling their thumbs now, because there's no room for their input
without subcommittees," Davies said. An interviewer commented that
not having subcommittees reduces the knowledge of the Legislature.
Davies said having a subcommittee expands the amount of time spent
considering and polishing a bill.
Yet another interviewer asked whether the
legislative leadership would allow subcommittees. Davies responded
that if a committee chair wants to have a subcommittee, nothing can
stop him or her. A few committee chairs, he said, have to be
persuaded to ask a handful of people--a subcommittee--to think about
a complicated bill and how it will affect the community. "We need a
couple of chairs to do that and then explain to other chairs why it
works so well," he said.
3. Abandonment of use of the Committee of
Davies' concern: The Legislature no longer
uses the Committee of the Whole, a procedure that he sees as
efficient and that offers legislators a chance to offer their
insights on a bill.
The Minnesota House no longer has a
Committee of the Whole. While the Senate still has authorization to
use the Committee of the Whole, Davies said it has not used the
procedure in the last few legislative sessions.
The Committee of the Whole is the entire
membership of the Senate acting as one large committee to consider
bills listed on General Orders, which is a list of bills that have
been recommended to pass by a committee, had their second reading
and await action by the full Senate. The president of the Senate, a
role in which Davies once served, may appoint another member to
preside and act as chair of the Committee of the Whole. During that
procedure, members debate the bill, offer and adopt amendments and
vote to recommend that the bill pass, pass as amended or be
rejected. Generally, the rules are less formal when the Senate meets
as the Committee of the Whole.
"I don't know why the Senate has abandoned
the procedure, but they have apparently forgotten its utility,"
Davies said. "It was so efficient. Members took up the bill and
offered their insights. Then the bill is laid over until its final
approval. It's fun, it's efficient and they don't do it anymore."
"Something's different now," an
interviewer remarked. "The work is not getting done the way it used
to get done. The world's more complicated, especially if you don't
understand what you're doing."
4. Need for more lawyers.
Davies' concern: Lawyers need to
contribute to the community by running for office and serving.
Davies said when he arrived at the Legislature in 1959, it met for
90 days every other year. Because the Legislature hadn't been
reapportioned since 1913, it still had many "bright farmers and
country lawyers. What a great thing!"
He said at one time, there were just 11
lawyers in the House, including the speaker, the majority leader,
the minority leader, the chair of the Tax Committee and the chair of
the Appropriations Committee. "Lawyers are very important," he said.
"The country's founders were, to a significant extent, lawyers." An
interviewer commented that, in the past, the Citizens League had
many members who were lawyers. That's not true today, the
Davies said some people complain about the
size of the State Senate. "But we need 60 Senators to get 12 good
ones," he said.
5. Overuse of fiscal notes.
Davies' concern: Fiscal notes give
agencies the chance to kill or pass a bill. Davies made that
remark when an interviewer asked about the practice of issuing
fiscal notes on various bills. Any member in any legislative
committee can ask for a fiscal note, which is supposed to tell
legislators how much a particular bill will cost. "I hate fiscal
notes," Davies said. "Agencies don't have to be honest in preparing
the fiscal notes. They can expand or shrink the predicted costs of a
bill." More disturbing, he said, is that agencies do not put into
fiscal notes the projected savings that the bill will accomplish.
All they look at is the cost and not the savings--the fiscal
tradeoff. That gives agencies the power to kill or pass a bill.
"The way it should work," he said, "is for
legislators to have some sort of idea about how much a bill will
cost and an idea of whether it's worth it to take money out of
citizens' pockets for it."
6. Constant use of cell phones.
Davies' concern: One of the real problems
at the Legislature is members' constant use of cell phones,
distracting them from the business at hand. "The task of the
Legislature is to look at real problems; cell phones interfere with
that work," Davies said. "I have no idea how to deal with it. You
can't tell legislators not to look at their phones. Maybe there
could be a rule in subcommittees that people can't use cell phones."
Civic Caucus Chair Paul Ostrow, who
formerly served on the Minneapolis City Council, agreed. "We had
public hearings, where members of the public were out there
speaking, and all the council members would be on their computers."
Today Democrats and Republicans in the
Legislature can't talk to each other. An interviewer made that
comment and said when he moved to Minnesota 50 years ago, Democratic
and Republican lawmakers could talk to one another and could arrive
at a compromise that was best for the state.
Davies, a DFLer, responded that if he were
in the Legislature today, "I would spend 95 percent of my time up
where the Republican offices are."
How do legislators view the University of
Minnesota (U of M) as a source of learning? An interviewer asked
that question and another: What about the potential of using U of M
expertise in subcommittee deliberations?
Davies responded that he's frustrated that
the U of M does not flood the Legislature with ideas. In 1972,
Minneapolis Star editorial page editor Steve Alnes wrote a piece
quoting then-Senator Davies saying the Legislature needs ideas from
the outside. It couldn't be expected to come up with all the ideas
on its own.
As an example, Davies noted that the old
Citizens League was "priceless in bringing ideas to the Legislature.
They were ideas that had been worked through in a pragmatic way and
had the politics taken out of them. They were just good ideas."
He mentioned the Metropolitan Council as
one of those good ideas and said the Citizens League had done the
Legislature a great service by promoting the Council, since, at that
time, the Legislature was getting bogged down in metropolitan
issues. The Legislature established the Met Council in 1967.
Has basic human nature changed? An
interviewer asked that question and said he would argue that it
hasn't. The interviewer said the Legislature worked before and asked
if it can again. Davies responded that things haven't changed
entirely. There are problems and proposed solutions. "That's
education," he said, "pulling people away from their ideological