Indivisible Minnesota Local

Minnesota Legislative Session (2017)

Overview and Strategy for Final Three Weeks

As the legislative session winds down (three weeks to go!), I wanted to give you an overview of how the end of the Minnesota Legislative session works, as well as our strategy for how you can take action to prevent bad bills from being signed into law. We’ll continue to post specific Calls to Action on our Indivisible Minnesota Local Facebook Group page, but I thought it might be helpful to share some information about the dynamics of this part of the session.

  1. Omnibus Bills
    The first thing to understand about the remainder of the session is that it’s all about “omnibus” bills now.

The actual purpose of an omnibus bill is to make the legislature more efficient by bundling together smaller non-controversial bills that are all on the same topic into one big bill. This big bill is called an “omnibus” bill and can contain hundreds or thousands of pages of individual bills. So, for example, by bundling a bunch of technical, non-controversial, election-related bills into an “Election Omnibus”, the legislature can have one debate and one vote instead of dozens. This makes sense and saves everyone on both sides a lot of time and energy.

Unfortunately, the omnibus process is being manipulated by Republicans who have inserted controversial legislation into omnibus bills that also contain legislation needed for the government to continue to operate. So, for example, a controversial bill killing campaign finance reforms that have helped make our elections fair has been inserted into the State Government Appropriations Omnibus Bill. So, if the Governor vetoes that omnibus bill to save the campaign finance reform laws, he also vetoes funding for state government and the state government shuts down.

2. Conference Committees
The other thing to understand about the process is that, right now, many bills are being revised by Conference Committees.

A Conference Committee decides on the language of the final bill that will be sent to the Governor (which he will then decide to sign into law or veto). This is needed because even though the House and Senate pass bills on the same topics, they often have slightly (or significantly) different language and provisions. Only one bill can be sent to the Governor for signature, so the Conference Committee agrees on the language of the final bill.

In order to sit on a Conference Committee, a legislator must have voted for the bill, so many of the Conference Committees only contain Republican legislators (since DFLers opposed the controversial provisions). Sometimes a DFL legislator will vote for a bill they disagree with, just so the DFL will have representation on the Conference Committee, but in all cases this year the Conference Committees are a negotiation between Republicans in the House and Republicans in the Senate, not a negotiation between the two parties.

4. Final Vote & Vetoes
The last steps in the process are a final floor vote and action by the Governor to sign or veto the bill.

After the Conference Committee agrees on language, the bill is voted on in both the House and Senate (where it will almost certainly pass since any deal making took place in the Conference Committee to ensure it has enough votes). It then goes to the Governor to sign into law or veto (or not act on at all, which would allow it to go into law without signature).

If the bills is vetoed, it is up to the legislature to come up with new legislation (after negotiating with the Governor to figure out what he will sign). This is where we then get into high-stakes and controversial “Special Sessions” and government shut-downs, with both parties trying to convince the public that it is the other party’s fault.

If one party (or the Governor) is blamed in the eyes of the public for a government shut down or legislative grid-lock, it creates pressure on that party (or the Governor) to concede and accept the other party’s legislative demands.

So, where does that leave us?

  1. Republicans are running the show. There is no “good” progressive legislation that is going to be passed, this is all about stopping bad legislation. This, in itself, highlights how important it is for us all to be involved in helping to flip the legislature to blue in the next elections.
  2. The Conference Committees can remove bad language from bills, but because the Conference Committees are Republican controlled, the Governor is the only place we can be assured that bad legislation will be stopped.

Our Strategy:

  1. Regular and repeated contact with the Governor urging him to veto all bad legislation. He needs to understand that we expect him to stand up for progressive values, not to make deals that would allow harmful legislation to become law, and that we have his back if there are negative repercussions from vetoing omnibus bills. The Governor is an ally and contacts with his office should be in the nature of a firm conversation with a good friend.
  2. Contacts with Republican Conference Committee members from people who live in the committee members’ districts urging the legislator to remove bad language from bills during Conference Committee deliberations.
  3. Any Conference Committee member who lives in a swing district should receive particular attention. While we are still analyzing data, a very rough list of Republican swing districts based on a victory of 5% or less in the last election includes the following: 5a Matt Bliss, 5b Sandy Layman, 14a Tama Theis, 14b Jim Knoblach, 17a Tim Miller, 17b Dave Baker, 21a Barb Haley, 28b Gregory M. Davids, 37b Nolan West, 42a Randy Jessup, 49a Dario Anselmo, 52b Regina Barr, 54a Keith Franke, 56b Roz Peterson, and 57b Anna Wills. This list is not complete and will be expanded as we perform additional analysis.
  4. Contacts to all DFL legislators prior to the floor votes on final legislation urging them to vote NO on all bad omnibus bills. Having 100% DFL opposition will give the Governor better justification for vetoing bills.
  5. Calls to Action will be issued daily based on Conference Committee activity. Regardless of topic, each Call to Action will include contacting the Governor.

Let’s keep the pressure on during these final three weeks and help stop harmful bills from becoming law. There is legislation attacking progressive values on all fronts in Minnesota and we need to work together to be effective. Thanks again for all you do … keep resisting!