Constitutional amendments

Two interesting proposals for amendments are working through the state Legislature.

As state lawmakers scramble to wrap up this year’s legislative session, there are two pending proposals that could make the ballot more crowded this fall. Two proposed constitutional amendments that deal with the power of the state legislature are being discussed. One would allow the state Legislature to call itself into special sessions, a power currently reserved for the governor. The second would take away the power of the legislators to determine their own salaries, instead giving that ability to a designated council of nonlawmakers. Both proposals deserve serious consideration.

The issue of calling a special session became a highly politicized battle last fall when state leaders fought about how to address flood relief and the collapsed Interstate 35W bridge. The need to take action on two major catastrophes was apparent, but Democratic leaders sparred with Gov. Tim Pawlenty over the scope of the special session. The Legislature should be able to call itself into a special session if a majority of its members deem it worthy. This would permit the Legislature more flexibility and offer an easier path to emergency sessions should a dire need arise. That power should not rest solely in the hands of the governor.

Legislator salaries has been a major issue in recent years as well. Last year lawmakers voted to increase their daily per diem while not changing their base salary. State lawmakers should be compensated justly for their work, but the current system makes pay raises an almost untouchable political issue and current salaries haven’t been raised since 1999. Giving a nonpartisan council the power to set pay rate could free legislators from awkwardly setting their own salaries. Pay should remain at a level that allows for common citizens to be elected. Instead, legislative pay has stagnated, and will eventually reach a point where it is unfeasible for middle-class citizens to run for office.

Both of the proposed amendments have merit and have the potential to reform our Legislature for the better.