More than a month into the session, the Rules Committee of the Minnesota House of Representatives set deadlines by which all bills are supposed to have been heard and acted on in committee, if they are to have a chance of receiving general approval on the House floor.
As far as I can tell, the Minnesota Senate’s Rules Committee still has not set those deadlines.
These deadlines are supposed to offer an impartial means of sorting the wheat from the chaff when it comes to the 1,000+ bills lawmakers introduce during every two-year session cycle.
For the House, a bill must first have received a favorable committee recommendation by the end of the day on March 12, then on March 14 bills that originated in the Senate and met that body’s first committee recommendation deadline must have also received committee approval in the House to remain under active consideration.
Finally, by 5 p.m. on March 29, finance committees in both the House and Senate must have acted favorably on the big spending bills.
Usually, these rules are used to explain to a lawmaker why their bill no longer stands a chance of being passed. “Sorry, but you missed the deadline.” For fans of the film “Office Space,” it’s the legislative equivalent of failing to put a cover on your TPS report.
But look closer and rules for all become rules for some. They don’t apply to the Taxes, Finance, Ways and Means, Capital Investment or Rules committees. The reason for this is because everybody knows that the final deals are going to get done in the last minute and they’re usually going to require moving a bunch of bills through these committees before getting them passed in the waning moments of the session.
This means that, inevitably, lawmakers are going to be voting on bills that they’ve had little or no time to read beforehand, and which haven’t gone through committee hearings in order for the public to examine them more closely.
So what we’re left with is simply a crowd-control tool for legislative leaders, who make up the membership of the rules committees. Delaying a hearing on a bill until after the deadline has passed is also a way for committee chairs to stick it to bills (or members) they don’t like.