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Information on Minnesota State Agencies, Boards, Task Forces, and Commissions
Compiled by the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library
Railroad and Warehouse Commission
Function: The Commission was charged with the examination of railroads in Minnesota, and had the power to issue subpoenas and administer oaths.
Active dates:1871 - 1967
Industry regulation in Minnesota began in 1871 when the Legislature created the position of Railroad Commissioner (see Laws 1871, chap. 22), an independent officer in the executive branch. The commissioner's duties were described, in part: to "inquire into and report annually any neglect or infringement of the laws for the regulation of railroads in this state, by officers, employees, or agents of such roads, to the legislature the first week of its session; and shall also, from time to time, carefully examine and inspect the condition of each railroad in this state, and learn its state of repair and sufficiency, and that of its carriages, engines, furniture and equipage, and the manner of its conduct and management for the public safety, and shall also report the same to the legislature, during the first week of its session."
This role was briefly expanded with the creation of the three-member Board of Railroad Commissioners in 1874 (see Laws 1874, chap. 26). But in 1875, this board was replaced by one elected commissioner, and the powers of the office were weakened somewhat (see Laws 1875, chap. 103).
In 1885, the legislature again expanded this office by establishing a multi-member commission called the Railroad and Warehouse Commission (see Laws 1885, chap. 188, sec. 9). This commission, among other things, was given power to examine books of the railroads, issue subpoenas, administer oaths, and remove unjust discrimination in rates, or unequal rate treatment of persons, towns, villages or locations.
The state continued to modify the role of the Railroad and Warehouse Commission, and to increase its powers around the turn of the century. By 1901, the commissioners duties were expanded and he could promulgate rules related to the weighing and inspecting of grain (see Laws 1901, chap. 157). The commission's role was gradually expanded to have power to establish rates for railroads, regulate warehouse and grain handling, investigate carrier management, determine reasonable rates, order railroad companies to maintain safety devices, and prosecute cases before the U.S. Interstate Commerce Commission. See A Brief History of MnDOT for perspective on how the Railroad and Warehouse Commission fits in with other transportation-related efforts in state history. The Commission assumed the responsibilities of regulating telephone companies in 1915 (see Laws 1915, chap. 152)
The Legislature changed the composition and appointment process to the commission several times in the early 20th century. In 1911 the Legislature stipulated that the three members of the commission serve for a term of six years with one member up for election every two years (see Laws 1911, chap. 140).
In 1967 the legislature created the Department of Public Service (see Laws 1967, chap. 864), consisting of two branches: the Public Service Commission and the Administrative Division. This effectively renamed and transferred all the duties of the Railroad and Warehouse Commission to the newly created Public Service Commission.
The Commission shall consist of three (3) suitable persons, qualified electors of the state of Minnesota, the decision of a majority of whom shall be considered the decision of the commissioners on all questions arising for their consideration, who shall hold their office for a period of two (2) years and until their successors are appointed and qualified, and who shall be appointed by the governor, and one of whom shall be of the leading opposite political party to the governor.
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