A question legislative librarians are often asked in the waning days of legislative sessions is, "Can the Minnesota Legislature pass bills on the final day of a regular legislative session?". And each year, we research the question yet again to make sure we are providing the correct answer.
Minnesota's Constitution, Article 4, Section 21 states in part, "No bill shall be passed by either house upon the day prescribed for adjournment." When that section of the constitution was written, the constitution also established that the Minnesota Legislature would meet in regular session in odd-numbered years. With a single-year session, the "day prescribed for adjournment" was apparent.
Things changed in 1972 when Minnesota voters approved a proposed constitutional amendment to establish flexible, biennial sessions. (Minnesota House Public Information Services published an informative article in 1991 about the history of flexible sessions in Minnesota.) With the inaugural biennial legislative session in 1973/1974, for the first time in state history there was a "final" day in the first year and a "final" day in the second year. Were both days considered the "day prescribed for adjournment" per the state constitution? Or was the final day of the second year the official adjournment day? The question was answered by the Minnesota Supreme Court in its 1974 decision, State v. Hoppe: "... May 21, 1973 was not the day of final adjournment ... but was merely a temporary interim adjournment during the unitary biennial legislative session".
One final note. Since the advent of flexible sessions, the Legislature has met in regular session in each year of the biennium. But Article 4 Section 12 of the state's constitution does not mandate yearly sessions. It's possible that some future legislature will meet only one time during a biennium and that there will once again be a single, final "day prescribed for adjournment".
Representative Lyndon Carlson surpassed a number of records today! He is now the longest serving House member - ever. He is also the longest serving member in the history of the Minnesota Legislature.
Three former legislators are tied for second-longest-serving legislator. Phyllis Kahn is the second longest serving member of the Minnesota House of Representatives and is tied in length of service with two legislators who served in both bodies--Anton J. Rockne and Carl Iverson. (Anton J. Rockne has the longest Senate tenure.) Check out the length of service for all legislators including those who have served just one day!
It’s easy to create a list of bills by author in the Legislature’s bill tracking system. How many of them became law? The bills that became law include a number in the “Law” column, indicating that they passed and received a chapter number in the annual Session Laws.
But the list of ‘laws passed’ is not complete – not because the system doesn’t work correctly, but because it is difficult to account for all the ways that language from a legislator might become law.
Some of the bills could have been incorporated into larger bills, such as an omnibus bill. For example, Rep. Kim Norton was the author of HF512 in 2015, establishing a child support work group. That bill did not pass, but the language was incorporated into SF1458, and passed into law, Chapter 71 of 2015.
Many times, when a separate bill is wrapped into a larger bill, a see reference will be listed on the status screen – but that doesn’t always work.
In 2015, Rep. Norton introduced HF39, designating Highway 14 as the Black and Yellow Trail. If you check the bill status system, it appears to be introduced, referred to committee, going no further. But it passed! (See article 3 of Chapter 287, and a photo of a sign on the completed trail.) It received a hearing and was included in the Omnibus transportation bill that year, even though there was no “see” reference in the bill tracking system.
As a legislator, what if you introduce a bill that is never heard in committee, yet it passes in the other body and is incorporated into an omnibus bill during conference committee? Is that your bill that passed?
Sometimes a legislator introduces a bill identical to one or many other bills - clone bills. If your bill is not the one that passes, is it legitimate to still consider the bill as one you have passed? Scott Magnuson, long-time Senate employee and legislation-watcher, has an opinion. He says no. The chief author of the bill that passes is the one who has done the hard part of taking it through all the committees. "If you are the chief author, you have to be passionate," Scott said.
Rep. Norton agrees with Scott that clones or bills that are filed as a courtesy and were never heard should not be claimed as passing a bill. On the other hand, she noted, “Sometimes an author researches an issue, files a bill, and gets a Senate author--but because of committee budgets or partisan politics, it may not be heard. If heard, it may not be included in the House Omnibus bill...BUT your Senate author may have better luck getting it included on the Senate side and it eventually passes. I believe that House author can/should take credit for that bill.”
A list of laws each member passed also doesn’t account for the work of legislators in committees and in floor session, where they track other members’ bills for language that may harm their districts, or craft amendments that help their districts.
While talking about the difficulty of definitive tracking, Scott Magnuson had a recommendation for every legislator who wants to carefully account for their work each session. Get a really good staff person who will track it for you, year by year.
A recent caller to the Library asked for help with the "MyBills" tracking service. It wasn't an IT or system problem - whew. Instead, the person following many bills wanted to learn more about what the notifications meant. "What does it mean if a bill is on the general register? What are general orders?" Perfectly logical questions!
We've updated the MyBills page to help people understand the process, by adding links to important background documents from the House and Senate.
MyBills House actions: General Register, Consent Calendar, Calendar for the Day, Supplemental Calendar for the Day, Fiscal Calendar, and Reports of Standing Committees. For background, see Legislative Procedure in the "Legislative Handbook" from the House Public Information Office.
MyBills Senate actions: General Orders, Consent Calendar, the Calendar, and Reports of Committees. For background, see "Inside the Minnesota Senate" from the Secretary of the Senate.
Here's another version of general orders -- in the historical image, "General Bosquet giving orders to his staff," from the Library of Congress photo archives.
The Legislative Reference Library sometimes hears from people expressing a concern that too many laws are getting passed. “Why is the Legislature's answer to issues always more government”? As librarians, we don’t answer that sort of question philosophically! But we can supply tips to help people better understand the process.
You have to pass a law to repeal a law
When you hear that the Minnesota Legislature has passed a certain number of laws in a session, it does not mean that every provision in those laws is a new law. When you look at a session law, you will see that it may be creating new laws – but it may also be amending existing laws or repealing laws – and often, a combination of all of the above. Here is an example of a “new” law from 2015 that is repealing two existing sections of Minnesota Statutes.
How many new laws are created compared to how many laws are repealed each year?
The laws that govern Minnesota are compiled into the Minnesota Statutes. The Minnesota Office of the Revisor of Statutes provides this table to track law changes. Use the drop down box to view sessions back to 1994 to see how many MN Statutes were created (new), amended, or repealed in a particular legislative session.
Historical data on Session Laws passed
Here are links to the 80 session laws that passed during the 2015 Regular Session.
The number of session laws passed during each session of the Minnesota Legislature has dropped significantly during the past decades. Bar chart. Chart with numbers.
Remember, those statistics are the number of session laws passed, not the number of provisions within those session laws. A session law might be a single paragraph – or hundreds of pages.
The concern with passing too much legislation is long-standing. Here is an interesting quote by Thomas Jefferson:
"I am certainly not an advocate for frequent and untried changes in laws and constitutions. I think moderate imperfections had better be borne with; because, when once known, we accommodate ourselves to them, and find practical means of correcting their ill effects. But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors." - Jefferson to H. Tompkinson (AKA Samuel Kercheval), July 12, 1816 (Last quote in this compilation)
As the new branch of the Legislative Reference Library in the Minnesota Senate Building began to take shape, it became clear there would be a large blank wall on one side of the new Library. We started thinking of ways we could use this space--art exhibits maybe?
A chance encounter with Tom Olmscheid, long-time former House photographer, solidified a plan for the first exhibit. Tom's collection of photographs he has taken of town halls on election days over a number of years seemed fitting for an election year.
Mary Lahammer interviewed Tom soon after the installation and featured it a few weeks ago on Almanac. Scroll to 34 minutes to see the March 18th Almanac interview or come to the third floor of the Minnesota Senate Building to see Tom's photographs in person!
The Minnesota Legislature has passed a presidential preference primary law three times; all were repealed. Four presidential preference primaries have been held.
1913 - Governor Eberhart promoted the presidential primary in his inaugural speech in 1913, and the Legislature passed a law that year, Chapter 449.
1916 - The primary was held on March 14 (election results). Winners: Democrat, Woodrow Wilson; Prohibition, William Sulzer; Republican, Albert B. Cummins
Two days before the election, the Duluth News Tribune wrote about the upcoming contest, including "The crazy quilt presidential primary has befuddled everybody from the rummy to the justices of the Supreme Court."
In 1947, former Morning Star Tribune reporter Charles Cheney recalled the primary in The Story of Minnesota Politics: Highlights of Half a Century of Political Reporting. "Minnesota tried the presidential primary once, in 1916, and that was enough. It was a lot of grief and expense.... The 1917 Legislature repealed the presidential primary freak, and few tears were shed."
1917 - The law was repealed, Chapter 133.
1949 - A presidential primary was established by Chapter 433, approved April 14.
1952 - The primary was held on March 18 (election results). Winners: DFL, Hubert Humphrey; Republican, Harold Stassen
G. Theodore Mitau wrote about the primary in his 1970 version of the textbook Politics in Minnesota. "Stassen had led in the Minnesota Republican presidential primary, and most of the state's convention delegates were officially pledged to him. But a write-in campaign for Dwight D. Eisenhower, launched just a few days before the state primary, had resulted in what came to be called the "Minnesota miracle." With almost none of the advance publicity Stassen had enjoyed, and without the approval of the national Eisenhower organization, the campaign was phenomenally successful; 108,692 voters took the trouble to write in Eisenhower's name on the ballot, while Stassen, whose name was printed thereon, received only 20,000 more votes, 129,076."
1956 - The primary was held on March 20 (election results). Winners: Democrat, Estes Kefauver; Republican, Dwight Eisenhower
Minnesota Politics and Government, a 1999 textbook by Daniel Elazar, Virgina Gray and Wyman Spano, explained: "In the 1956 presidential primary the leaders of the DFL tried to deliver the state for Adlai Stevenson by virtually dictating to the rank-and-file DFLers that they vote for him in the name of party unity. The spontaneous reaction of the voters was to give Estes Kefauver the victory, a message pointed toward Hubert Humphrey." See also: "Primary History '56 free-for-all contest had it all," by Jim Parsons, Star Tribune, Jan. 19, 1992.
Entire chapters were devoted to this primary race in Coya Come Home: A Congresswoman's Journey by Gretchen Urnes Beito (Los Angeles: Pomegranate Press, 1990) and Hubert Humphrey: A Biography by Carl Solberg (St. Paul: Borealis Books, 2003).
1959 - The presidential primary law was repealed, Chapter 67.
Iric Nathanson wrote about the 1952 and 1956 primaries in a 2008 MinnPost article, "Political mischief: Minnesota's 1950s experiment with presidential primaries." About the repeal, he wrote, "The mainly Republican conservatives controlled the state Senate, and they moved first to vote repeal with only minimal debate. But repeal was more controversial in the House, where the liberal caucus, composed of DFLers, was in control. There, a repeal vote was delayed when primary supporters, many of whom had backed Kefauver in 1956, pushed unsuccessful to conduct one more direct primary in 1960 before scuttling the 1949 law entirely. But now DFL leaders were concerned that a 1960 primary, which permitted cross-over voting, could embarrass Hubert Humphrey and his bid for the 1960 presidential nomination."
1989 - A presidential primary bill, authored by Sen. Ron Dicklich, passed the Senate 48-16, and then the House 117-10, Chapter 291.
1990 - Changes were made to the law. The date was pushed back from the last week in February to April 7, and voters were required to declare themselves for a particular party in order to get a ballot. Chapter 603. (Background: "Minnesota primary law aims at increasing clout," by Gerald Kopplin, Hibbing Tribune, May 9, 1990)
1991-1992 - The House and Senate voted to repeal the presidential primary, but Governor Arne Carlson vetoed the bill. His veto message described his support for a presidential primary. The Senate voted to override the veto, 56-9, but the House failed to override the veto, 77-49. Veto page information. The primary remained in place. (Background: "The $4 million beauty contest: Primaries and caucuses 1992: Power to the people, sort of," Roger Swardson, City Pages, February 26, 1992.
1992 - The primary was held on April 7, 1992. Winners: DFL, Bill Clinton; IR, George H. W. Bush. (election results) (Background: "Primal yawn: Nation, and most state voters, ignored controversial primary," by Dane Smith, Star Tribune, April 9, 1992.
1995 - The presidential primary was put on hold until after 1999. (Background: "Hopes dashed for presidential primary, election overhaul," Jack B. Coffman, Pioneer Press, May 19, 1995)
1999 - The presidential primary law was repealed. Chapter 250, Article 1, Section 115.
Dr. Eric Ostermeier wrote an informative article in his Smart Politics blog recently, "A Brief history of presidential primaries."
The Library has additional sources of information on the four Minnesota presidential primaries, including many news clippings on the 1992 primary and discussion of the issue during that decade.
Former state legislator, Minnesota House Speaker, and U. S. Congressman Martin Olav Sabo died yesterday. Library staff remember Sabo as a user of the Legislative Reference Library through the years.
But in particular, we remember him fondly for a visit to the Library when he and former Representative Tom Berg came bearing wonderful pastries! They had collaborated with several former legislators and staff to write the book, Minnesota's Miracle: Learning From the Government That Worked, by Tom Berg. Shortly after the publication of the book, they brought pastries to thank Library staff for help with all of the research. We were pleased to be given credit in the book – and honored to receive a visit from the two of them!
Governor Mark Dayton's State of the State address is scheduled to be given at the University of Minnesota's McNamara Alumni Center on March 9, 2016. State of the State addresses are generally held in the Minnesota State Capitol, but that seemed an unlikely location this year given that most of the capitol building is closed for restoration.
It won't be the first time a governor has delivered a State of the State address away from the Capitol. It's been held elsewhere eight other times--twice in Bloomington, twice in Rochester, once in St. Cloud, Hutchinson, and Winona, and once at the Governor's Residence. All other State of the State addresses appear to have been held at the State Capitol.
The Minnesota Constitution requires the Governor to address the Legislature each session, but as far as we can verify, Governor LeVander's 1969 message to the legislature was the first to be titled "State of the State." The Library has collected most gubernatorial addresses since statehood: Gubernatorial Addresses to the Minnesota Legislature "State of the State" and Inaugural Addresses, 1857-present.
There's been a recent flurry of legislative retirements! The Library's new Legislative Retirements page has had four additions in the past two weeks -- Senator Kathy Sheran, Senator Roger Reinert, Senator Dave Thompson, and Senator John Pederson. Others have announced their retirement plans and there will likely be more to come.
You may notice that many of the names on our retirements list are from the Senate. It's too soon to tell if 2016 will be a landmark turnover year for the Senate or the House but we'll be sure to track statistics on legislative turnover as we've done since 1970.