Senator Greg Clausen: The Legislative Process – Every Step Counts

TConverting a great idea into a law is complicated and involves several moving parts. What people do not always realize is how collaborative and deliberate the legislative process is at its core. There are many different players who contribute to the process – passionate constituents, public interest groups, business organizations, state agencies, legislative staff, policy analysts, and the Senate counsel, among others. It is with the thoughtful input of residents and stakeholders that State legislators are able to better understand and more effectively respond to the needs of Minnesotans. Receiving insight into the wide-range of perspectives and experiences of different communities is critical for leaders to make responsible decisions at the Capitol. Although a Senator may understand the needs of the State, coming to practical conclusions can become difficult when the process is muddied with inaccurate information or partisanship.

During each legislative session, thousands of bills are introduced in the Senate. A bill is a proposal for a new law, a change in current law, a repeal of a current law, or for a constitutional amendment (modification). When bills move through the process with clarity and precision, we see things getting done ethically and at a steady rate. Every piece of legislation deserves fair consideration for open, honest debate in appropriate committees. The process is deliberately designed to ensure every detail of legislation is taken into account.

For this reason, policy bills (proposals for guiding principles without fiscal implications) are separated from funding bills (proposals that involve a budget change or an appropriation of money from the State) as a part of the legislative process. Before a bill may be voted on, it must be “heard” or “pitched” by the author in at least one Senate committee – Majority leadership is responsible for deciding which bills go where and for scheduling bill hearings in each committee. The Senate has designated committees for Policy bills and for Finance bills. For example, we have both an “Agriculture, Rural Development, and Housing Finance” Committee, and an “Agriculture, Rural Development, and Housing Policy” Committee.Honoring this distinction and guiding bills through the appropriate committees is vital to the productivity of the democratic process.

Yet unfortunately, the appropriate division of bills does not always happen. During the 2018 Legislative session, Governor Mark Dayton had to veto (reject) a massive 35 pound, 350,000 word, 990-page omnibus bill from the Senate Majority which contained both policy and fiscal components. Omnibus bills are larger bills made up of numerous smaller bills on the same topic. Sometimes, omnibus bills can be useful for the sake of convenience, however, their function should not be abused by crossing fiscal and policy topics or packing too many bills together to the point of becoming indecipherable.

Although there were many wonderful bi-partisan proposals embedded in the infamous 2018 omnibus bill, it ultimately compounded hundreds of pieces of legislation on unrelated matters and was thus considered unfit for law. This was a hard hit to Minnesotans, as it caused a lot of the hard work of the 2018 session to be lost in an instant. Senate leadership must fairly and fully consider bills based upon their topics. However, most bills that have been heard this session have been laid over for possible inclusion in yet another omnibus bill. The distinction from policy and finance bills is critical for legislative productivity. Honoring the integrity of Minnesota’s Constitution and legislative process matters. I am hopeful that during the 2019 session, members of the Senate will work both ethically and diligently across the aisle to get things done for the people of Minnesota.

If you would be interested in more information on the legislative process or if you have an issue that you think I may be able to help you with, please contact me by phone at 651-296-4120 or by email at sen.greg.clausen@senate.mn. You can also mail letters or pay me a visit in the Minnesota Senate Building, Room 2233, right across the street from the Capitol. 

Senator Greg Clausen
Greg Clausen lives in Apple Valley and represents District 57 in the southern Twin Cities metropolitan area.

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