The Free Press, Mankato, MN

March 7, 2014

The 'unsession' can prove to be fruitful

WHY IT MATTERS: Both parties should be able to find agreement on streamlining government and making it easier for residents to work with state agencies.

The Mankato Free Press

---- — Many of the state statutes and regulations up for repeal in the legislative “unsession” will be easy for both political parties to rally around.

Gov. Mark Dayton this week unveiled 1,000 proposals to undo laws and simplify regulations, including repealing old laws that make it a misdemeanor to sell fruit in an illegally sized container and illegal to drive a car in neutral. The list also targets an old law that says if a wild boar runs loose in Minneapolis or St. Paul, the commissioner of the Department of Agriculture is legally bound to personally capture the animal.

The effort comes from a pledge by Dayton to use this short non-budget year session to focus on streamlining state government and cleaning up statute books, rather than focusing on many major issues.

It’s a good idea, not just because it should make government more efficient, but because this is also an election year. That means proposing a lot of major bills would only get bogged down in pre-election posturing and lessen the chances that much of any business gets done in the session.

While doing away with outdated laws will be relatively simple, some of the other proposals will likely stir more lively debate and bring proposals for more controversial changes.

Republicans issued their own proposals, which include passing a tax conformity bill and full repeal of business-to-business sales taxes approved last session.

Republicans, in the minority in both chambers, are faced with a bit of a predicament in the unsession: support Dayton’s list of proposed changes and hand him a victory, or be critical of them and look like they obstructed common-sense recommendations.

But the two parties should be able to find enough common ground on things such as repealing some business-to-business taxes, which both sides generally agree were a mistake to pass in the last session. And both sides should see the benefit in streamlining the state bureaucracy. If they can, both sides can emerge from the session with things to crow about.

While the undoing of old statutes is important, the more vital work is streamlining government regulations and making the system easier for residents to use.

Dayton wants to shorten the ridiculously long time periods it takes to get many state permits or for state rulemaking changes to be made. Businesses and individuals often wait a year or two for for state agencies to act; Dayton hopes to reduce many of those waits to no more than 90 days.

The governor also wants state agencies to use plain language when writing rules so that people can understand processes without the aid of a lawyer.

The unsession may not provide the high drama of hard-fought budget-year battles, but both parties could do a great service to Minnesotans in this shortened session by making state government more approachable, easier to interact with and more responsive.