'Nothing good happens after midnight:' House DFLers consider debate limits

Describing the legislative process as "broken," one Minnesota Democrat says he wants to stop votes from happening after midnight, limit the number of bills lawmakers can file, and place restrictions on omnibus bills.

Democrats will have the power to reshape rules in the state House when the party retakes control of the chamber in January. Republicans retain a one-seat majority in the Senate.

Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, is asking for public input on potential changes. He said the next few weeks before the session starts is the right time to consider limits, including one that would ban debate in the dead of night.

"Everybody has grown up and had their parents say, 'You will be home after midnight,' because nothing good happens after midnight," Pelowski said in an interview. "We haven’t had any sleep, the staff hasn’t had any sleep, and the public isn’t going to be watching us."

Current House rules allow lawmakers to extend debate past midnight by majority vote. The chamber occasionally does go into the early morning hours, especially toward the end of the legislative session as lawmakers try to meet deadlines.

Pelowski's position is not universally shared.

Rep. Greg Davids, R-Winona, said lawmakers are elected and paid to approve the best legislation, regardless of the hour.

"The House has been very open. It’s the people’s House. I don’t think we should have restrictions on who can talk and when," said Davids, the longest-serving House Republican. "Some of us just get going about 11:30 so we’re fine to go all night."

Pelowski said lawmakers should also restrict omnibus bills that are regularly proposed toward the end of the session. He said bills should include policy items or budgetary items, but not both.

Omnibus bills led to a controversial end to the 2018 session when Gov. Mark Dayton vetoed tax conformity and supplemental budget bills that the legislature had passed just before the deadline. At the time, Dayton called it the "worst-managed legislative session I've seen." 

Davids said it will be difficult to limit omnibus bills at the end of the session.

"I think that at some point towards the end of session when things get moving, new ideas come up, you need to put a bill together, and you’ll have some big bills," he said.

Pelowski lamented the number of bills filed in the 2017-2018 legislative session -- 4,542, which he said was a record and about 500 bills more than the previous two-year session. The number of bills slows down the process, he said.

"The more bills we introduce, the fewer bills we actually pass and become law," he said.

All of the potential changes are under consideration, said a spokeswoman for House Speaker-designate Melissa Hortman. Some of the rules can be changed by the House, while others would require consensus between the House and Senate, she said.

Pelowski will chair a public hearing at 1 p.m. Wednesday in the State Office Building for people to testify on potential changes.