Today Sen. Roger Reinert introduced legislation proposing a constitutional amendment to temporarily fill a legislative vacancy if a legislator is called to active duty. The House bill is authored by Rep. Bob Dettmer (R – Forest Lake). Rep. Dettmer is in the Army Reserve, while Sen. Reinert is a Navy Reservist. The two serve together in a combined unit and just completed their January drill.
“This is a simple bill,” said Reinert. “It lets Minnesotans decide if this is a process they’re comfortable with.” If the bill passes the House and Senate (it does not need the Governor’s signature), the amendment would be on the 2012 election ballot.
Under terms of the proposed bill, a sitting legislator called to active-duty during their legislative term would supply three names for a temporary successor. That successor would be chosen, from that list of three, by legislative leaders. The temporary successor would relinquish the seat upon written notification that the sitting legislator has returned from duty and is ready to resume their legislative responsibilities.
As Navy Reservist, Sen. Reinert found there was no procedure for filling the seats of legislators called to active duty. If this happened in Minnesota, the seat would remain vacant during the time of active service. Sen. Reinert introduced this legislation as a House member last year—and it passed 128-4.
“Under current law, if a legislator is called to active duty, their constituents have no voice at the Capitol,” Sen. Reinert said. “We are fighting two wars as a country, and Guard and Reservists play an increasingly active and sustained role.”
There are currently 63 legislators across the country who are Guard or Reserve members and who are eligible to be activated. The trend of legislators who also serve in the military is increasing, and twenty-five states have enacted some kind of provision since 2001 for members juggling both commitments.
“I am a Lieutenant in the Navy, and I am a State Senator for Duluth,” Reinert said. “I take my service to my community and my service to my country, very seriously. My colleagues do as well. Having this change to the state constitution would mean legislators who serve their constituents, and also serve their country, would be better able to balance their dual oaths.”