OMNIBUS BILLS – DEMOCRACY IN ACTION?
There are basically two kinds of omnibus bills that thwart citizen efforts to follow Minnesota’s legislative process and to participate in government decision-making. The first is a committee policy bill that committee chairs and their staffs put together, behind closed doors, based on a number of bills heard by their committee.
The second type of omnibus bill occurs when riders are added to appropriation bills. This is sometimes done during conference committee negotiations, as was the case in 2015 when the ten members of the State Government Finance Omnibus conference cut a core function out of the State Auditor’s job.
No bill had been introduced to accomplish this, no hearings had been held, no testimony from experts or citizens. This action took place in the wee hours of the morning on the last day of session. Conference reports cannot be amended; the bill passed.
The Omnibus State Government Finance bill funds the entire state government; it would have shut the state down if vetoed. The bill was signed.
State Auditor Rebecca Otto sued, based on two assertions: (1) When the legislature stripped her office of a core function, it violated the separation of powers in state government; and (2) It violated the constitutional requirement that bills embrace only one subject when the legislature changed the auditor’s duties in a State Government Finance bill.
In 2017, League of Woman Voters Minnesota signed on to an ACLU amicus brief in the Auditor’s case, Otto v. Wright County, et al. We await a state Supreme Court decision at this writing.
Join us on April 3, 2018 when Appeals Court Judge Jack Davies (ret.), a former state senator and current active lobbyist, will discuss how we have arrived at this point in our “democratic” legislative process, what, if anything, can be done about it, and the potential ramifications of the Supreme Court’s decision.
For more information:
- How a Bill Becomes a Law, https://www.leg.state.mn.us/leg/howbill
- LWV Minneapolis. April Voter, “Omnibus bills – Democracy in Action?” https://lwvmpls.org/wp-content/uploads/Apr_2018_Voter_Final.pdf
- “Everything you need to know about omnibus bills, and why they’re so popular at the Minnesota Legislature,” Briana Bierschbach, March 31, 2017, MinnPost, https://www.minnpost.com/politics-policy/2017/03/everything-you-need-know-about-omnibus-bills-and-why-theyre-so-popular-minne
- LWV toolkit and amici curiae brief: https://www.lwvmn.org/sites/default/files/Single%20Subject%20Toolkit.pdf (Note the amici span from most progressive to most conservative)
- “Otto v. Wright County: Why the Legislature and the Counties Should Lose,” Prof. David Schultz, February 4, 2016,“Schultz’s Take” Blog, Hamline, University, http://schultzstake.blogspot.com/2016/02/otto-v-wright-county-why-legislature.html
- “Supreme Court hears Rebecca Otto’s Challenge,” Kevin Featherly, January 4, 2018, Minnesota Lawyer,https://minnlawyer.com/2018/01/04/supreme-court-hears-rebecca-ottos-challenge/