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Editorial Roundup: Make law that puts sunshine on Legislature’s final talks

The end of every legislative session provides many lessons for not just legislators and the governor, but the Minnesotans who elect them.

Again this session, the paramount unlearned lesson is the duty of transparency in final negotiations.

For the umpteenth budget-building session in a row, the most important decisions about the public’s money — $48.3 billion worth — were made out of the public’s view, this time by essentially just three elected officials.

Despite promises to the contrary, DFL Gov. Tim Walz, DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Senate Republican Majority Leader Paul Gazelka went behind closed doors for several days only to emerge May 19 with a $48.3 billion, two-year state budget agreement.

From there, while they might have proclaimed 10 conference committees would ultimately decide specifics in the session’s final day and special session, media reports indicate it wasn’t quite that, ahem, transparent.

While those committees held their mandated public hearings, MinnPost reported respective conference chairs met privately with Walz, Hortman and Gazelka as the session moved from its final regular day May 20 toward a one-day special session May 24.

Exactly how much latitude those chairs had to make changes isn’t clear — nor is it the point.

The point is Minnesotans have had enough of closed-door, backroom, insider-only meetings at which a handful of politicians decide what to do with their constituents’ money and then get to walk away claiming victory without providing details as to how those decisions came about.

The public deserves more accountability than that, and the answer is really quite simple: Make the legislative process subject to the same open-meeting and sunshine laws that county commissions, city councils and other public entities must abide by.

Seriously. Make it the law that the Legislature has to operate in the sunshine.

It’s not an unprecedented idea: In 1990, the Legislature passed a law requiring all legislative meetings be open to the public. When a quorum is present and action is likely, House and Senate floor sessions along with meetings of committees, subcommittees, conference committees and legislative commissions are open to the public.

But when the deadline nears and the real deals are being made, darkness falls. Every year.

So 30 years later, it’s time to hold the governor and top legislative leaders to the same standard, not to mention showing the taxpayers who give them billions to spend every year information about how and why they made their decisions.

— St. Cloud Times, May 31

About Editorial Roundup

Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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