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Guest editorial: Alarm sounded - Get work done, lawmakers

Nearly four full weeks remain in the 2018 session of the Minnesota Legislature, and it apparently isn't too soon to start prodding lawmakers about getting their work done. On time. And without the mad scramble at the end, the closed-doors meetings, the secret late-night deals, and the votes on bills no one has had time to read.

All of these unsavory, not-the-way-to-conduct-the-people's-business practices have marred recent sessions and even seem to be emerging as a disappointing norm.

Fully aware of the ugly recent end-of-session past, Gov. Mark Dayton Monday decided it wasn't too soon to start nagging Minnesota's elected state representatives and senators about completing the tasks for which they were sent to St. Paul.

"Unfortunately, it appears that the very important work you do on behalf of Minnesotans will be jammed into just a few weeks," the governor wrote. "Excessive delays will impede the transparency of the legislative process and deny Minnesotans the ability to engage in testimony and public debate on matters of great significance to them. Delaying will only increase the likelihood of errors in bills and rush important policy and budget decisions."

The governor's office turned up the heat recently with a memo to the media, including to the News Tribune Opinion page, pointing out that 99 days have passed since the governor proposed $1.5 billion in bonding "for urgently needed infrastructure improvements across Minnesota" while "the Republican majorities in the Minnesota House and Senate have yet to release their bonding proposals."

While the words of Dayton and his office rang true, particularly when it came to the need for the Legislature to get its work done, the divisive partisan tone in the memo fell flat. Picking a fight with the other party only hampers the prospects of cooperation, compromise and accomplishment. Minnesotans want production and results, not political play and gridlock.

There's just too much at stake each session in St. Paul. The critical work this year includes that aforementioned bonding bill and the need to comply with federal tax code, protect the elderly in Minnesota care facilities, address the statewide opioid crisis, improve school safety, and more.

And, "As I have said," Dayton wrote, "I will not call a special session."

A stick-it-to-taxpayers special session to complete work when there's ample time during the regular session would be unacceptable. It would be failure. Yet it happened last year and has happened at least seven times since 2001.

Special sessions are for emergencies. Those times when Minnesotans need their elected leaders to step up and provide the help they were elected to provide, like after natural disasters. Special sessions aren't supposed to be a fall-back when lawmakers fail to do their work — or refuse to, opting instead to waste time playing politics, vilifying the other party, and deepening Minnesota's political divide.

In his letter, Dayton requested transparency, accountability, that offers be made in writing during the final weeks of the session, that bills be made available for public review prior to voting, and that budget targets be reached no later than May 11. All reasonable.

The alarm has been sounded. A bit earlier than expected perhaps. But that offers even more time to heed the warning and finish the work.—Duluth News Tribune

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