The Minnesota House of Representatives is reviving its road show.
In a press release Wednesday, Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said the House will meet in Winona and surrounding communities over three days next fall, from Oct. 2 to Oct. 4.
“In addition to welcoming citizen participation in the state Capitol in St. Paul,” she said in the release, “the Legislature should go out into communities across the state.”
The mini-session will help make the Legislature “more accessible and responsive to Minnesotans,” she said.
It’s a revival of past practice. Between 1985 and 1999 there were 18 mini-sessions held, though not all of them were over-the-road affairs. Three were in St. Paul.
The last such event took place in Willmar on Halloween of 1997. It was dubbed the “Harvest Moon Mini-Session,” according to a contemporaneous report by House Public Information Services.
The idea is to let the public see how the Legislature operates, without requiring citizens to drive into St. Paul. Previous mini-sessions have included public legislative hearings and tours by lawmakers of the local communities. That seems to be what’s on tap this time, as well.
However, Winonans won’t quite get a complete picture of the legislative process, because there are limits to what lawmakers can do in the off season.
A 1973 “flexible session” constitutional amendment gave lawmakers permission to continue their work from the regular session into the interim. That means bills already in their possession from the regular session could be heard during the mini-session. Full testimony could also be taken and votes cast.
However, committees can’t take the next step, which is to refer a bill to the floor or another committee. Nor can a bill be amended in a mini-session hearing get engrossed. So not much of official importance really can happen.
New bills could be heard, but for information-only purposes.
A mini-session is not a special session; those must be called by the governor. So no bills, pre-existing or otherwise, could be heard by the full House. Even if that were possible, several sources indicate, floor votes aren’t allowed outside the city of St. Paul.
We’re not sure yet which committees will meet, or when. No meetings have been added to the official House calendar. Members are currently helping to shape that agenda, the press release said.
That means we’re also not sure if DFL leaders will assent to a written request, signed by all 55 House Republican members, to hold hearings on the recent zaniness at the Department of Human Services.
“The mini-session provides us a perfect opportunity to discuss the shakeup at DHS and update the public on the leadership changes that impact the lives of more than a million Minnesotans,” House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said in a separate, GOP House caucus press release.
Republican leaders first requested hearings on the DHS shake-up two weeks ago, that release notes. They have not received a response, according to the Republican caucus.