Editor’s note: Welcome to Capitol Retort, our weekly review of issues in state and national news, with a rotating cast of legal and political people in the know. Answers are edited for length and clarity. Any instances of agreement are accidental.
Lawmakers last week grilled Commissioner Mona Dohman on use of GPS tracking software in the Department of Public Safety’s ignition interlock program for drunken driving offenders. She admitted the data produced is public, stunning some legislators. Can this genie ever be put back into the bottle?
Fritz Knaak, attorney, former legislator: That’s something I just don’t feel a lot of sympathy for. I am on the other side of that stuff—I do the prosecuting, mostly. And if you are being allowed back on the road earlier than you might otherwise be, I absolutely think that you are going to be giving up some of your privacy rights. And if you don’t like it, hey—take the bus.
David Schultz, political science professor, Hamline University, University of Minnesota law schools: It will be difficult to put it back into the bottle, because once it is out and the public knows it is there you can’t put it away. But we’re really struggling with how to do a tradeoff between the public’s right to know versus trying to draw some lines in terms of respect for privacy. And I don’t think anybody has figured out how to draw those lines yet.
Ember Reichgott Junge, attorney, former legislator: This is one of those situations where the unintended consequences are becoming very serious. I think the Legislature has got to step in to deal with the issue that they created. Either change the technology to separate [real-time violations reporting from location-tracking data], or you reclassify the data. But the Legislature has to be intentional about it.
Unfortunately, there have been a number of situations in the past where not all of the details have been thought out and this looks like one of them.
The House of Representatives unanimously passed its first bill—a tax conformity measure that aligns state tax law with recent federal changes—on the first day of session. Think the rest of the session will go that smoothly?
Knaak: No. And I’m not sure this went smoothly either. What they did is they took a little chunk. They took the easy stuff to show they could do it and now they are sending it to the governor. The Senate is obviously going to approve it.
The real question—and it will be a real statement in terms of whether or not he wants to cooperate—is whether the governor signs it. If they pass it and he signs it, that to me is a real positive statement. That is the governor saying, ‘Hey, let’s get some stuff done here.’ If he doesn’t, if he says, ‘No, it’s premature,’ or he starts nitpicking it, it tells me he is really expecting what I would characterize as an awful session where the deal gets done at that end. It will be the parakeet in the mine kind of thing.
Schultz: Pretty unlikely. This was like voting on motherhood and apple pie. I mean, if it had been a fractured vote, that would have told us how bad it really is going to be. But these federal conformity bills are almost always pro forma, almost always unanimous. And so it probably doesn’t tell us anything at all. But it is a good first start.
Junge: [Laughs.] Wouldn’t it have been great if the first bill would have been a bonding bill? Because that is what is really needed right now in Minnesota. No, I don’t think it will go that well.
The restored Capitol is beautiful; I hope that the legislative process will be restored to what it has been in the past, which has been results-oriented, transparent and respectful. The first day went well. Let’s hope that stays true throughout the session.
According to the FiveThirtyEight website, a man named Charles F. Feeney has given away $8 billion of his personal fortune, keeping just $2 million to enjoy a “modest retirement.” What would you do with $8 billion?
Knaak: With $8 billion? I would certainly have a nice, modest retirement.
Schultz: I’ve got two answers on this one. Answer one is more serious: I would probably put it into trust accounts for a ton of nonprofits. That way they don’t blow all the money at one shot and they have sort of long-term annuities.
Answer two: When I was an undergraduate, one of my classmates said, ‘If I ever won the lottery, I would take all the money in $1 bills, strip naked, rub my body in honey and roll in the $1 bills.’ I think that is a particularly humorous and ingenious answer. [Note: For the record, Schultz is not saying he would do this.]
Junge: Oh, my gosh! I would set up a foundation to rival the Gates Foundation. I also would ask you if you happen to know [Feeney’s] phone number?