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Executive Branch Organization

By Elizabeth Lincoln, Molly Riley, and Elaine Settergren

Throughout Minnesota's history, executive branch agencies have come, gone, or been altogether re-worked as the needs of the state and the demands on state government change. Agencies that today we take for granted as long standing entities haven't always been around.

Take for example the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) which has, by that name, only been around since 1976. But of course the state was engaged in transportation matters long before the 1970s. 

A state constitutional amendment passed by voters in 1898 authorized the legislature to provide the governor authority to appoint three members to a new State Highway Commission. The legislature took no action until 1905; the State Highway Commission was organized in 1906. About ten years later, in 1917, the legislature abolished the commission and in its place created the Minnesota Department of Highways. That group existed until 1976, when MnDOT, as we refer to it today, was established. 

It's not just the legislature who plays a role in shaping the structure and duties of state government. Since 1969, the Commissioner of the Department of Administration has had the authority, under Minn. Stat. 16B.37, to "transfer personnel, powers, or duties from [one] state agency to another." These transfers are formally made through Executive Branch Reorganization Orders.

Use of these orders has dropped significantly over time, each decade seeing about half the orders as the previous decade: 

Graph showing Reorganization Orders by decade. 108 in the 1970s; 51 in the 1980s; 23 in the 1990s; 13 in the 2000s; and 2 in the 2010s.

But the Legislative Reference Library received one this summer after a nine year hiatus. Reorganization Order #197 transfers some staff and duties from the Bureau of Mediation Services to the Department of Administration. The House Research Department further summarizes this authority in their publication Executive Branch Transfer Authority (2010).

Another set of executive branch documents in the Library's collection are Executive Orders, which also play a role in the work of state government. Often, governors use these orders to create ad-hoc task forces or advisory councils to study and make recommendations about an issue facing the state. A good example from this year is Executive Order 19-02, which established the Governor's Blue Ribbon Council on Information Technology. Though the groups created by executive orders aren't at the level of executive branch departments, they often play a role in informing the work of a department or providing recommendations to the legislature.

READ Posters

By Elizabeth Lincoln

Senator Dahms is pictured in front of a backdrop of the Minnesota State Capitol while holding the book John Adams by author David McCullough.  The word READ is spelled out in all capital letters at the top of the image. David Bowie is featured in jeans and a high school letter jacket reading The Idiot by Dostoevsky in front of a white background. Large red letters at the top spell out READ. Representative Kristin Bahner is pictured in front of a backdrop of the Minnesota State Capitol while holding the electronic book Out of Africa by Isak Dinesen.  The word READ is spelled out in all capital letters at the top of the image. The American Library Association created their popular celebrity READ posters in 1985.  Bette Midler, Paul Newman, and Steve Martin were featured in some of the earliest posters, but you're most likely to remember the classic 1987 poster featuring David Bowie, which graced the walls of many public and high school libraries.

The Minnesota Library Association recently paid a visit to the State Capitol and photographed nineteen House and Senate members with favorite books for their own series of READ posters.  Around here, these might become the David Bowie posters of their time!

The legislators featured are Rep. Paul Anderson, Rep. Kristin Bahner, Rep. Jamie Becker-Finn, Rep. Robert Bierman, Sen. Karla Bigham, Rep. Greg Boe, Sen. Jim Carlson, Rep. Jack Considine, Sen. Gary Dahms, Sen. Scott Dibble, Rep. Rob Ecklund, Sen. Nick Frentz, Rep. Bud Nornes, Rep. Mary Kunesh-Podein, Rep. Fue Lee, Rep. John Petersburg, Rep. Dean Urdahl, Sen. Chuck Wiger, and Rep. Dan Wolgamott.  Come see which books they chose as their favorites--and which legislator is featured with his own published work of fiction.

The READ posters will be on display in the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library (State Office Building location) until summer. 


It's a Budget Year

By Molly Riley

chartMarch in an odd-numbered year is a perfect time to remind you of the Library’s state budget resources. We regularly compile historical resources that provide context and perspective on issues of importance to the legislature and state government. Two new resources we published this fall provide historical perspective on the state budget.

Major Appropriation and Finance Bills and Laws, 1995-present is a handy resource this year. Relying on sources from the House Fiscal Analysis Department, Senate Counsel, Research, and Fiscal Analysis, and the Library's vetoes database, we compiled a chronological list of major appropriation and finance bills and laws from 1995 to the present, including bills that received line item or full vetoes. This page makes it easy to pull up transportation finance bills from the past ten years, or to compare a vetoed version of an omnibus appropriations bill with the one that was signed into law.

The second resource to note is our Minnesota Governor's Proposed Biennial Operating Budget page, which includes digital versions of proposed operating budget documents back to the late 1990s. (Older proposed operating budgets are also available in print in the Library.) This page provides quick access to Governor Walz’ proposed budget documents for FY2020-2021, alongside those of former governors. These two new pages complement our Minnesota Governor’s Proposed Capital Budget page, which includes digital versions of all proposed capital budget documents back to 1975.

This winter has been brutal!  Stop by the Legislative Reference Library on the 3rd floor of the Minnesota Senate Building for glimpses of beautiful summer scenes for a reprieve from the snow and dark!

'Sweet Summer,' Carol Blackburn's collection of evocative summer nature photographs, will be on display until summer arrives.  Carol is a longtime LRL librarian and a freelance photographer in her spare time.

This is the fourth art exhibit the Senate location of the Legislative Reference Library since the opening of the Minnesota Senate Building in early 2016.  Please stop by!


The Legislature's website has a fresh new look!  After months of work by a dedicated team of legislative programmers, the new site was rolled out over the weekend. 

The programming team included Chris Cantey (Legislative Coordinating Commission), Mike Schatz (Legislative Reference Library), Max Carlson (House Chief Clerk's office), Matt Burress (House Research), Ariel Zannou (Senate Information Systems), and Isaac Holmlund (Revisor of Statutes).   Also thanks to Krista Sheely (Senate Information Sytems), Mike Speiker (House Chief Clerk's Office), and Jason Judt (Revisor of Statutes).

It's back by popular demand!  Learn the names of the brand new legislators and refresh your memory on the returning members by taking the Minnesota Legislator Quiz! Can you get a perfect score?


29,000 legislative tapes!

By Elizabeth Lincoln

Library staff are excited to announce a new searchable database of 29,000 legislative audio files covering 1991-2003!

Until recently, tracking down the history of legislation often involved a trip to the Legislative Reference Library (LRL) or the Minnesota Historical Society (MHS)--or both! Before the Legislature began recording meetings digitally in 2004, all audio was recorded on cassette and reel-to-reel tapes.  Interest in researching these primary materials has not waned--legislative staff, state agency staff, attorneys, and private citizens continue to use these rich primary research materials.  But, the tapes were inconvenient to use and they took up enormous amounts of space at LRL and MHS.  

A 2017 appropriation allowed the Legislative Reference Library to undertake the digitization of 29,000 audio tapes.  This digitization project and resulting database enhances the existing collection of digital hearings and floor sessions, making these valuable primary records of the Legislature accessible to anyone at any time and preserving them into the future.  Researchers are now able to listen to all committee hearings and floor sessions back to 1991. The database draws upon other sources of information such as House and Senate floor logs and committee members for each standing committee.

For further information on researching legislative proceedings, consult the Legislative Reference Library’s legislative history guide and resource list or contact a librarian at 651-296-8338 or by email.


Fiscal Review

By David Schmidtke

The Senate Counsel, Research, and Fiscal Analysis publication, Fiscal Reviewis one of the most heavily  used publications in the Legislative Reference Library. The Library’s paper copies are lovingly worn and the digital archive, reaching back to the first publication in 1975, is an invaluable resource. 

The 2018 Fiscal Review provides detailed coverage of the budgetary actions of this year's legislative session. Of course, the capital investment and the pensions bills are the main focus of this year's fiscal activity, but this year's edition also takes a look at the vetoed Omnibus Supplemental Finance and Omnibus Tax Bills. Two other budget issue are discussed that impacted the 2018 fiscal legislation as well: The Governor’s line-item veto of the FY2018-19 Legislative Appropriation and the creation of the nonpartisan Legislative Budget Office.

To celebrate the recent release of the 2018 edition of Fiscal Review, the office of Senate Counsel, Research and Fiscal Analysis invites you to the satellite office of the Legislative Reference Library (3238 MSB) on Wednesday, September 26th at 10:30 am.  Doughnuts will be served!

Discover Ebooks at the LRL

By Elaine Settergren


Have you heard about the free, online Ebook collection created for all Minnesotans? Ebooks Minnesota has over 5,000 books for readers of all ages – fiction and nonfiction, with a special focus on Minnesota’s independent publishers.

It’s easy to start reading. Open Ebooks Minnesota in your computer browser (such as Chrome, Edge, or Firefox). If you prefer to read on your phone or tablet, download the Biblioboard app in Google Play or the BiblioBoard app in the App Store. You’ll automatically see the option to be connected to the Ebooks Minnesota collection if you are anywhere in Minnesota. Titles that may catch your eye include:

  • North Country: The Making of Minnesota
  • A Boundary Waters History: Canoeing Across Time
  • Partisan Gerrymandering and the Construction of American Democracy
  • Doorstep Democracy: Face-to-Face Politics in the Heartland
  • Minnesota’s Miracle: Learning from the Government that Worked
  • Crossing the Barriers: The Autobiography of Allan H. Spear
  • The Art of War: The Oldest Military Treatise in the World
  • Land of Amber Waves: The History of Brewing in Minnesota
  • A History of Professional Hockey in Minnesota: From the North Stars to the Wild
  • Morgan Park: Duluth, U.S. Steel and the Forging of a Company Town
  • The City, the River, the Bridge: Before and After the Minneapolis Bridge Collapse
  • Hinckley and the Fire of 1894
  • Minnesota Mayhem: A History of Calamitous Events, Horrific Accidents, Dastardly Crime & Dreadful Behavior in the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes

Ebooks Minnesota is brought to you by Minitex and made possible in part by funding from the Minnesota Department of Education through a Library Services and Technology Act grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.


Elaine wrote the following article for the Minnesota IT Services blog on accessibility issues. She is a librarian at the Legislative Reference Library and also serves as the Accessibility Coordinator for LNET (Legislative Networking Group).

The Minnesota Legislature’s website is the unified effort of staff from the House and Senate and several joint legislative offices including the Revisor of Statutes, the Legislative Reference Library, the Legislative Auditor, and other offices within the Legislative Coordinating Commission. Legislative staff from the various offices collaboratively manage the website through the LNET (Legislative Networking Group).

LNET manages the content and design of the Legislature’s website and acts as a forum for all legislative offices to share and discuss issues. The group meets year-round to continuously improve usability and content on the legislative web pages. LNET members act as consultants for one another on issues of technology.

While each body and office manage distinct websites, many legislative website activities are collaborative. Offices share data to make pages that include information from multiple offices, such as the combined calendar, the conference committee page, and MyBills.

Much of the Legislature’s website, which consists of web pages and PDF documents for download, is compliant with the state accessibility standards and many of its documents posted from 2017 to the present are accessible, or the information is provided in an alternative accessible format such as HTML. Like many organizations, large amounts of older materials may not meet accessibility standards and may require a large dedication of resources if the older material is to be remediated. Legislative staff continue to work toward increasing the accessible online presence of the Minnesota Legislature’s website.

The website is coded so that it is usable by keyboard and with a screen reader, which includes use of jump navigation, alt text, heading tags, and meaningful link language. The Legislature uses popular tools such as WebAIM’s WAVE to test for accessibility. IT staff from the legislative offices are currently coordinating to transition the website to Bootstrap, a web interface framework, that will improve the way it works on diverse screen sizes.

Many materials, such as bills, session laws, statutes, and rules, are available in HTML as an alternative to PDF. Several legislative offices publish reports and use CommonLook software to remediate PDFs, when applicable. Tagged PDFs are offered when possible. Because the nature of legislative work is complex, fluid, and fast-paced, tagged PDFs may not be immediately possible. An additional accessibility challenge for the Legislature is that some documents that are submitted for posting come from public citizens or non-legislative entities and are not electronically accessible. For specific documents that may not be accessible, the Legislative Coordinating Commission facilitates requests for remediation to make the documents accessible.

Audio and video archives are continually expanding on the Legislative website. Streaming video programming is captioned in both the House and Senate. Recent Senate video files have searchable captions. In addition, the House is exploring ways to possibly make transcripts of audio files available.