‘Public Value Impact Statements’ proposed for bills

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All lawmakers believe the legislation they sponsor has some value to the public, but Rep. King Banaian (R-St. Cloud) thinks they should have to spell it out in writing.

Banaian sponsors HF673, which would require legislators who sponsor certain kinds of bills to produce a “Public Value Impact Statement” that describes the intended effect of their legislation.

The House State Government Finance Committee approved the bill and sent it to the House Ways and Means Committee. It has no Senate companion.

According to Banaian, the goal is to provide Minnesotans with a simple, layman’s-terms explanation of why a piece of legislation is being brought forward. The statements would be published on the Legislature’s website and be easily accessible to the public.

The idea is that, years after a bill is passed, ordinary citizens could compare the stated intentions of laws with their actual impact on the real world. Banaian said it would add transparency to the legislative process.

“I think it’s worth it to give our citizens the ability to gain that information in a clear-language way at relatively low cost,” he said.

Critics said the measure would merely add more paperwork for legislative staff, and amounted to little more than asking legislators to write down their own partisan talking points on their bills.

“Isn’t that only one side of the argument? That doesn’t sound like transparency to me… it’s just one man’s opinion or one woman’s opinion,” said Rep. Kerry Gauthier (DFL-Duluth).

Rep. Steve Simon (DFL-St. Louis Park) questioned the ultimate value of the statements, theorizing that over time they might become increasingly generic.

“Why do you think this will be a meaningful document for people as opposed to just a press release?” Simon said.

The bill originally would have applied only to bills that increased government spending or imposed new regulations or financial obligations on the private sector and local governments. Rep. Nora Slawik (DFL-Maplewood) successfully amended it to also included legislation that would reduce government spending.