Monday, January 30, 2012

A legislative trick at the Minnesota Legislature

Whether it's the usual process how laws are made, or other ways such as the bait-and-switch or sleight of hand, the public has a right to know what legislators are up to in how they make law.  "Magic is successful because it is nine-tenths simple distraction", it could also be said it is truer with the legislative process. 

The public got a taste of "magical tricks" at the end of the 2011 legislative session with bills appearing and reappearing in different legislation.  There was also the "miracle" appearance of proposals that the public and even many legislators did not even know about as reported in the media.

Switch the eye of the public with one hand and roguery can happen with the other.  Did this happen 4 years ago when an amendment was adopted in a tax conference bill that gave less sunshine and accountability to the Iron Range Resources & Rehabilitation Board.

This has been a subject of a lot coverage by the Duluth Tribune with the most recent article last week.

Bottom line is that for at least 22 years plus the IRRRB had accountability and transparency when it gave loans or grants to various business or parties to further the mission of the Board.  The IRRRB had their own data classification in the Data Practices Act.

In 2001, the IRRRB section of law along with others which were similar were combined into one section in the Minnesota Government Data Practices, Chapter 13.591. The accountability and transparency remained as the same public data available for the public to review.

Now, here we are in 2012 with Rep Anzelc trying to change the law back to undo the "trick" that was done in the 2008 Tax Conference bill.  That "trick" was done with the public not knowing and the amendment not even going to the appropriate committee for review.  The trick was the following:

    Sec. 4. Minnesota Statutes 2006, section 298.22, is amended by adding a subdivision
to read:
    Subd. 12. Data classification. Data collected by the commissioner on any
application to determine the eligibility of an applicant for any loan or equity investment
made from funds that are available to the commissioner under this section or otherwise
by law, and to assess or monitor the applicant's or recipient's default risk or to collect
payments owed are: (1) private data on individuals as defined in section 13.02, subdivision
12; and (2) nonpublic data as defined in section 13.02, subdivision 9. The names of the
recipients of the financial assistance and the amounts of financial assistance are public data.

What the amendment did is block the general provision of law that allows data such as financial information about the company including credit reports, financial fee statements, and balance sheets and other data to be public when a person or business receives money in a loan with the IRRRB.  It could also may be interpreted to apply to grants if the IRRRB does this.

This is not unusual for these kind of tricks to happen at the Legislature.  Many GOP and DFL lawmakers do it. I have seen it many times in the decades I have been at the Legislature.

Thanks to legislators who call it out when these kinds of "trick" is being done at the time or even now four years later to correct the "trick".  But this 'episode" also emphasizes the need for the public to continue to keep an eye as to what's happening at the Legislature to expose what the magicians (legislators} are up to.

No comments:

Post a Comment