Clicking on the Web: History of Minnesota Legislature

It is highly probable that the 2012 session of the Minnesota Legislature will adjourn before the month of April has ended.

If so, this will mark the first time the Legislature has not adjourned in May for some time.

In today’s column, we are going to take a look at some Minnesota legislative history and we will also look at the comprehensive data bases available for perusal on the web.

Three provisions of the constitution regulate the length of the regular session.

• The session is limited to 120 legislative days, as that term is defined by law.

The law defines a legislative day as a day on which either house is called to order—that is, meets in a “floor session” in its chamber in the Capitol.

Legislative committees may meet without consuming a legislative day, as long as neither house meets on the floor that day.

• The Legislature normally must use at least two legislative days each week.

The constitution does not allow either house to adjourn for more than three calendar days (excepting Sunday) without the consent of the other house.

Although the two houses could agree to frequent long adjournments, in practice they do not.

Both routinely comply with the constitutional requirement by scheduling a minimum of two floor sessions each week, even when there is little floor business to conduct.

• The Legislature may not meet in regular session after a specified day in May.

The constitution forbids the Legislature to meet in regular session after the first Monday following the third Saturday in May in any year.

This provision confines regular sessions to the first five months of any year.

If you love to follow state government, one of the first things you should do is bookmark the Minnesota Legislature website.

It is at http://www.leg.state.mn.us/

On the Minnesota Legislature website, you will find links to helpful information for the House and Senate.

Information on other legislative offices includes Revisor of Statutes; Legislative Reference Library; Legislative Auditor and other legislative offices.

Links to special areas of interest are available:

• Visiting the Capitol, http://www.leg.state.mn.us/leg/faq/faqtoc.aspx?subject=14

• Legacy Amendment Projects, http://www.legacy.leg.mn/

• Electronic Notification Services, http://www.leg.state.mn.us/leg/elists.aspx

• Minnesota Constitution, http://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/cco/rules/mncon/preamble.htm

• Other government, http://www.leg.state.mn.us/leg/govern.aspx

• Maps, http://www.commissions.leg.state.mn.us/gis/html/gismaps.html

• Links for Youth, http://www.leg.state.mn.us/youth/index.aspx

• Legislative District redistricting, 2012, http://www.gis.leg.mn/redist2010/plans

• Congressional redistricting, 2012, http://www.gis.leg.mn/redist2010/cong

Another outstanding legislative website to bookmark is the one on the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library.

Go to http://www.leg.state.mn.us/lrl/

The Reference Library updates biographies in the Minnesota Legislators Past & Present database, as it collects new information about members who have served in the Legislature back to statehood.

Sometimes there are great improvements to the database, like the recent addition of photos for legislators for five earlier sessions, scanned with a grant from the Minnesota Digital Library (MDL).

We added photos for members who served in years close to the two world wars: 1915, 1917, 1919, 1941 and 1943.

MDL grants have funded the addition of legislator photos from nine early sessions in the 1900s.

With the newest round, some early legislators even have more than one photo, including Hannah Kempfer.

She was one of the first four women elected to the Legislature in 1923.

She was also the first woman to serve as honorary House “Speaker of the Day,” on Jan. 28, 1925.

Since the photos are included in the MDL Reflections database, many more people will discover the legislator biographies.

The legislator database is a statewide resource, with biographical information on many of the most prominent politicians since statehood.

If looking for trivial information but fun stuff, go to the Library’s “House and Senate Seating Charts” page that leads to a substantial archive.

The reference Library website points out the interest in seating charts: Legislators frequently refer to their seatmates on the floor of the House or Senate.

When first elected, a neophyte legislator has built-in tutors in surrounding chairs.

Seatmates can be valuable allies for seasoned legislators.

A 2007 profile of former Sen. Don Betzold, Fridley, in the Legal Ledger noted that he was a dyed-in-the-wool Democrat who could be trusted to toe the party line on key issues.

The Ledger writes: “But that’s not the primary reason the last four DFL Senate leaders have made him their seat mate – the person they trust to monitor floor proceedings when they are distracted by other business.

“The primary reason is that Betzold is acutely attuned to detail.”

Former Sen. Gene Merriam, Coon Rapids, was a seat mate for many years of former Senate Majority Leader Roger Moe.

Former U.S. Rep. Tim Penny was also a seat mate of Merriam.

Merriam served 22 years in the Senate and is also a former commissioner of the Department of Natural Resources.

Look up Wikipedia’s take on Minnesota legislative history.

Minnesota has one of the largest legislatures in the nation: 134 House members and 67 members of the Senate.

Let’s read from Wikipedia: “Early on in the state’s history, the Legislature had direct control over the city charters that set the groundwork for governments in municipalities across the state.

“In the early period, many laws were written for specific cities.

“The practice was outlawed in 1881, though attempts were still made.

“For instance, the long-standing Minneapolis Park Board and the city’s Library

“Board were both created by the Legislature in the next several years.

“The Minnesota State Constitution was amended in 1896 to give cities direct control over their own charters.”

In 1913, Minnesota legislators began to be elected on nonpartisan ballots.

In 1974, House members ran with party designation.

In 1976, Senate members ran with party designation.

Editor’s note: Howard Lestrud is ECM online managing editor.


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