The Free Press, Mankato, MN

May 3, 2013

In Response: Legislators earn pay with numerous duties

Sen. Kathy Sheran, Mankato

— Daryl Fritz wrote about his disagreement that legislators should be given a pay raise. His letter gives me a chance to speak to the issue in two ways. First, I want correct his inaccurate description of the work obligation of legislators. Second, I want to express support for a discussion about compensation for legislators if it is with an accurate understanding of the job requirements

Fritz presented a seriously inaccurate description of the work obligations of legislators when he said legislators work only 60 days a year. He is describing the number of days the Legislature can be on the floor (as a whole) to pass bills to be signed by the governor. The facts are; the session starts in January and ends in May. Most legislators are here at least five days a week often for 10-12 hour days.

Besides the 60 floor session days, there are committee hearings that meet daily often from early morning until late at night. In between meetings the legislator schedules meetings with constituents to review bills and to discuss their impact on those interest groups. If we get home weekends the days are filled with meetings or forums with local interest groups seeking legislators’ time. 

After the session in June, legislators serve the public in a variety of ways. Examples are office hours, meetings with constituents or work groups and task forces preparing legislation for the next legislative session. I will serve on the State Mental Health Task Force, the National Conference of State Legislators, oversight committee on the stadium, the health exchange oversight committee and two committees on medical transportation to name a few of the coming summer/fall work duties.

Contrary to Fritz’s assertion, legislators are expected to be and are available for constituent work all year long.

I respect that many disagree with my vote to increase compensation for legislators after the next election. Nevertheless, I believe legislative pay should be adjusted periodically. If legislators worked only 60 days a year I would agree that the pay is more than adequate.

Regardless of the compensation, many qualified people will step forward, but I think most people want to make sure compensation is fair, while keeping service as the most important motivator.

On a separate issue, the current process for deciding compensation for legislators has those benefiting making the decision on salary. That is why I support a constitutional amendment to have an independent citizen’s council be authorized to recommend legislative compensation packages. It would provide confidence to the public that the recommendations are based on analytics, provide opportunity for a diverse group of potential candidates and minimize an apparent conflict of interest.