Parties debate new Senate rule change

The rule changes the approval process for bills in the House and Senate.

by Stephanie Kudrle

A rule change made in the Minnesota Senate last week has members of the minority party frustrated with the legislative process.

The rule allows House- and Senate-approved bills to be sent back to a committee for review, instead of going to an immediate vote.

Democrats, who hold a majority in the Senate, said the rule was necessary to make sure the House only makes changes that are relevant and appropriate to the original content of a bill.

Republicans said the majority party changed the rule in a political move to defend its own interests and to avoid controversial issues.

Both the House and Senate must pass identical legislation for a bill to become law. House members can add amendments or change a Senate bill. They then vote on it and send it back to the Senate for a final vote.

The new rule states that if Senate members decide the House changed a bill too much or added amendments irrelevant to the original content, the bill will not go to a vote.

Instead, it will be sent back to a committee so the changes can be reviewed. The committee can compromise between the two chambers or end the bill.

Majority Whip Sen. Satveer Chaudhary, DFL-Fridley, said the rule was in response to a circus-regulation bill last year that had an anti-abortion amendment added to it in the House.

“Opponents of abortion were able to attach significant policy to a bill that had nothing to do with the issue,” Chaudhary said. “The rule change prevents that type of tomfoolery.”

Chaudhary said the rule change encourages, not limits, debate on important issues.

“It allows a little bit more deliberation on controversial issues that were shoved through the Legislature in a less than open fashion,” he said.

Assistant Minority Leader Sen. Thomas Neuville, R-Northfield, said the rule was designed to prevent Democrats from forming coalitions with Republicans to pass legislation.

“It’s a ridiculous rule,” Neuville said. “It shows their desperation and inability to hold their own members together.”

Some Democrats vote conservatively on issues such as abortion, gay rights and gun control, Neuville said, which gives Republicans a majority and ability to pass those laws.

He said future bills, particularly controversial ones, could be affected by this rule change because the approval process would take much longer and bills could be rejected.

Majority Whip Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, said the rule would make lawmaking consistent. He said

the Supreme Court recently ruled that bills with titles in multiple sections of the law are unconstitutional.

“If we send a bill over to the House, we should assume the bill would come back pertaining to that subject and not something different,” he said.

Sen. David Gaither, R-Plymouth, said the rules are supposed to protect minority party rights, not the majority party fears. He said bills that might pass the Republican-controlled House, such as anti-abortion legislation, will never be heard in the Democrat-controlled Senate.

“People elected us to vote and debate matters,” Gaither said. “These important issues are going to be ignored because of a small group in the Senate.”