The last few hours of debate on the floor of the Minnesota House of Representatives on its last night was unique and special for the public to see. It gave an opportunity for the public to view and hear what accountability and transparency means to the Legislature.
Debate surrounded on the Minnesota Legacy conference committee bill – SF1363. A great amount of discussion was on the proposal for the Lessard-Sams Heritage Council not to be under the Minnesota Open Meeting Law(OML)which it has been under the past two years since it was created. The proposal to change the law was a Senate position, the House did not have it in their bill. The Council is responsible for recommending to the Legislature on projects under the outdoor heritage portion of the Legacy Amendment. This current bill has about $180 million in projects and spending from this process.
Many Minnesotans would think it is a no brain er not to be under the Minnesota Open Meeting Law. The public is able to see how decisions are made as to how $180 million of their money may be spent. The public would be able to have access to the same information that the members of the Heritage Council has at their meetings. Also there would be thorough procedural notice as to when meetings are. These elements and others of the OML are guaranteed by law. It is important to note that all local city councils and county boards also come under this same law.
Well, the proposal on page 31 of the Conference Committee bill was to kill the current law to be under OML, only to be open to the public when decisions are to be made, which would eliminate the public’s ability to see and hear discussions about the various projects if no decisions were to be made, known as informational meetings, and also eliminate the requirement to have at meetings of the Council all data available to the public which the Council members have at the same meeting.
Proponents of the proposed change said that the Lessard-Sams group can be under the Legislature Open Meeting rules. From my perspective, the Legislative Open Meeting process is general, ambiguous, and has a large amount of discretion.
A large number of House members disagreed, led by Representative’s Holberg, Paymar, and Rep. Urdahl who was swayed by his peers by their arguments, who was the Chief Author of the House bill. The bill was overwhelmingly sent back by the House to reconvene the Conference Committee to get the proposed section out, but the Senate refused to do so.
The bill was brought back to the House of Representatives again for reconsideration which then led to more time to debate the open meeting issue and other parts of the Legacy bill until the clock ran out at midnight. The Legacy bill more than likely will be up in Special Session.