House hires representation for possible shutdown


On a split-voice vote, which appeared to be along party lines, the House Rules and Legislative Administration Committee approved a resolution authorizing the House to file a response or otherwise appear in litigation to provide temporary funding of core functions of state government.

The resolution also allows the House to designate and retain outside counsel for the litigation, at the speaker’s discretion. House Majority Leader Matt Dean (R-Dellwood) said former state Chief Justice Eric Magnuson has been retained. Dean could not say how much is being paid for Magnuson’s services; however, he did not anticipate “a great use of funds,” noting the work should be limited to a court appearance and some preparation work. (Listen to the meeting.)

“There are two issues that we’re seeking representation on,” said Joel Michael, staff coordinator with the nonpartisan House Research Department. “Legislative appropriations do not cancel, so unlike most other entities in state government, we actually do have an appropriation, so the first point is to make sure the actual payment functions are available to us to access that appropriation through Minnesota Management & Budget. It’s simply asking the court to make sure there are actually people at MMB … that can actually process our payments under our existing appropriation.”

Rep. Kim Norton (DFL-Rochester) said the move is premature. “To me, it shows a sign that you have given up in your negotiations (with the governor), and I certainly hope that isn’t the case.”

Gov. Mark Dayton has recommended that the courts order mediation for the budget impasse, something Dean believes is unconstitutional. Magnuson is also to represent the House in opposing such action.

A Thursday hearing is planned in Ramsey County District Court related to shutdown issues, but it is not certain when the court would decide what functions of state government are considered essential and would remain open if legislators and the governor cannot agree on a funding deal.

Rep. Kate Knuth (DFL-New Brighton) asked why nonpartisan House staff could not be used to defend the House position.

A rule change earlier this year prohibits using nonpartisan staff for litigation purposes, Dean said. Last biennium, nonpartisan staff was used in an outside legal dispute over unallotment.