So much for open meeting laws, secret budget talks continue with four days left

The Governor’s Mansion

Minnesota political reporters are tweeting pictures sitting outside the Governor’s mansion this week, waiting for any news of a budget deal.

While this show has become commonplace during the final weeks of session, it’s fair to ask: Are Minnesota’s open-meeting laws being violated by the closed-door-budget negotiations?

In Minnesota, the spirit of the open-meeting law dictates that lawmaking should be made in public.  Yet secret negotiations have been going on for weeks between Governor Mark Dayton, Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook.

Bills become laws by first passing the House and the Senate, then a conference committee comes together to negotiate the differences.  But the bulk of those negotiations don’t seem to be happening at the Capitol between legislators, they’ve been happening at 1006 Summit Avenue.

Conference committees in St. Paul have been meeting, but have mostly stayed away from the meat of the large omnibus bills, waiting for the larger budget framework to be set.  Huge issues that will affect Minnesotans such as a gas tax hike and the state taking over 125,000 acres for buffer strips are not being debated for the public to see.

We are four days away from the constitutionally-mandated deadline to wrap up session yet the bills are idling and last-minute changes won’t allow any time for public input.  Issues like flame-retardant chemicals in children’s products are being discussed in committee and resolutions to recognize Supreme Court justices are being read on the floor.

For this final full week of the legislative session, the House and Senate have only been on their respective floors for about twelve hours since Monday.

If Minnesotans face the absurd prospect of a government shutdown with a $2 billion budget surplus, then they should question how these last-minute closed-door meetings negatively impact lawmaking.

The House began session at 10am today and recessed 26 minutes later, the Senate begins session at 11am.