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Lawmaker pay and special sessions on the ballot?

Posted at 2:25 PM on May 6, 2008 by Michael Marchio

A couple of constitutional amendments are making steady progress and might actually get on the ballot this November. The first one, which I wrote about last week, would have a council set wages for lawmakers, instead of current law which leaves it up to lawmakers themselves. Sen. Tarryl Clark (DFL-St. Cloud) is carrying this in the Senate. It passed the State and Local Government Commitee and it is awaiting a hearing in the all-powerful Rules Committee, while the House heard their version today in their Rules Committee. Rep. Kent Eken (DFL-Twin Valley) is carrying it in the House, but no word yet on whether it passed.

The other possible amendment is being carried by (who else) Sen. Ann Rest and Rep. Lyndon Carlson (DFL-Crystal) is HF2554/SF3072. This one would allow either the presiding officers from both chambers or the a majority vote from both chambers to call a special session. Right now, that's an ability enjoyed only by the governor. The Commish is confident that MFL managers enjoy performing their civic duty by voting as much as he does. Now that we're down to crunch time, are these amendments you'd want to support?

This is a bit off subject but last night during the floor session, Majority Leader Tony Sertich (DLF-Chisholm) made the point that Rep. Carlson, the author of that special session amendment, had been at the Legislature longer than he'd been alive. I thought he was joking, so I paged through one of those little red legislative directories and found this. Take a look at the committees Rep. Carlson works on:

Finance, chair, Capital Investment Finance Division, Rules and Administration, Taxes, Ways and Means,

Ex officio on: Agriculture, Rural Economies and Veterans Affairs Finance Division; Education Finance and Economic Competitiveness Finance Division; Energy Finance and Policy Division; Environment and Natural Resources Finance Division; Finance (Chair); Health Care and Human Services Finance Division; Housing Policy and Finance and Public Health Finance Division; Minnesota Heritage Finance Division; Public Safety Finance Division; State Government Finance Division; Transportation Finance Division.

Along with Sen. Linda Berglin, Rep. Carlson is the longest-serving member of the Legislature, both first elected in 1972. Rep. Sertich was born in 1976. The amount of policy knowledge stored away in Sen. Berglin and Rep. Carlson heads, along with other long-serving lawmakers, got the Commish thinking about one of those issues that always poll well but don't always work like they're supposed to: term limits.

Through the 1990s, 21 states adopted term limits. They were kind of a fad, like legislative pogs or starter jackets. The phrase "career politician" is about as well liked as "root canal", and campaigning against them using ballot initiatives to implement term limits was pretty popular. Some states, though, came to regret the decision, and six, Idaho, Utah, Oregon, Wyoming, Massachusetts and Washington went back and repealed the limits. A report by the National Conference of State Legislatures in 2006 found that implementing them led to some unintended consequences. From Stateline, a great resource for you MFL participants looking to keep up with legislatures around the country, here's what they found:

"Under term limits, less-experienced legislators cede more power and influence to the governor and lobbyists, according to the study. For instance, four in-depth case studies used for the report found that legislators made many fewer adjustments to governors' budgets after term limits took effect." "Because they do not have as much time to learn the nuances of policy or political maneuvering, term-limited legislators -- and especially committee chairmen -- have to rely on the policy expertise of lobbyists and the institutional knowledge of staff, according to the study."

"Members are less collegial and less likely to bond with their peers, particularly those from across the aisle. The consequences of this are more than a simple change in the social climate -- the decline in civility has reduced legislators' willingness and ability to compromise and engage in consensus-building," the report said.

The New York Times recently profiled a lawmaker from Nebraska who believes he was the sole cause of their state enacting term limits I'd encourage you to check out here.

No lawmakers have sponsored bills limiting terms in this session, but what you MFL managers think?