Today the Minnesota Legislature is scheduled to meet in special session.
The need for this session arose when the Governor vetoed several of the big spending bills from this year’s regular session. Without the bills signed into law, there is no funding for continued operations, and at the end of the fiscal year, June 30, some agencies would need to partially shut down.
The process leading up to this special session has me thinking about open meeting laws.
These laws are intended to create transparency in lawmaking. They include provisions for proper notice, where the meeting can be held, and access for the public.
For example, I am a member of Edina’s Transportation Commission. We have nine voting members. The open meeting law requirements mean that a quorem (5+ members) can’t gather informally to discuss commission business. That all has to be done in a formal meeting setting.
This requirement is in place even though we as a commission don’t make any final decisions. We are an advisory group to the City Council who takes up any of our recommended actions and runs it through the full process, which may include public hearings, presentations during council meetings, perhaps some debate broadcast on cable access, and a formal vote, all done in full public view.
Now back to my question about today’s special session. Only the governor can call it. One of his conditions for calling it was that the deal would be worked out prior to bringing in the voting members.
All that deal-making went on behind closed-doors in double-top secrecy over the course of several weeks. Only the leaders of the two chambers and the governor, along with key advisers were involved.
While this isn’t a technical violation of the open meeting laws, it sure feels like it’s a blatant disregard for the spirit of the law. These few leaders are working out the details on how the state will spend billions of dollars, and the public doesn’t get to watch.
It’s time to shine some light on these deal-making sessions, where the real decisions are made.