Sunday, April 22, 2012

The Artful and Foxy Words of Fine Print

As the Minnesota Legislature races towards the end be aware of that A-222 amendment which may have a short sentence with several words and placed on a conference committee bill or a so called must pass bill for the "sake of the state."

As the public has learned from such behavior in the past it can be hard to correct once the public finds out.  Just review the various media reports after last years shutdown.  Many stories of legislative surprises, revealing switches of money, and just out right "magical" disappearing of legislative language.

In the past, I have seen and discover such amendments,  There are many I ignore, some I tell others about, or I take action.  Several years ago, the Chair of the House Commerce Committee adopted a short sentence as an amendment, a provision which would have turned our state's strong medical privacy laws into Swiss cheese.  I spoke with him.  Did not see an issue.  I spoke with other legislators, but also with other privacy advocates.  The provision was taken out.

Another way of how things slip in is the "mumbo jumbo" of referring to Chapter 628 of the 5th subdivision, paragraph (a) with a few words added.  Many times law is made by amending current law.  But many people including legislators sometimes do not understand what an amendment may do.  The question may not be asked what the change may do to current law.

A case in point.  I spoke with a legislator this week about an amendment to our medical records statute.  She told me what the purpose of it was.  I said that was incorrect because it is already in current law.  She read the current law and decided to do language appropriately with what she and others wanted.

The Omnibus tax bill, the Health and Human Services bill, Legacy bill, among others including the "People's Stadium" bill is edging slowly its way towards the finish line.

We the public need to Stop, Look, and Act if we see sly, crafty, and smooth language in the bills we do not understand. So do the elected legislators we put into office.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Minnesota Legislative Auditor at it again

Last night I saw a report on KSTP News which showed Legislative Auditor James Nobles stating that Commissioner Jessen of the Department of Human Services was not being forthcoming in providing documents that he has asked for.  Currently, the Legislative Auditor along with other government enities are investigating aspects of the $4 billion Medicaid affair.

Many people in Minnesota may not know about this, but the Legislative Auditor was cited recently in a major study.  The study was part of an effort by the Center for Public Integrity, Public Radio International and Global Integrity to look at how all 50 states deal with accountability and transparency to prevent "funny things" such as corruption, breaking of laws, and dishonesty from happening in government.

Minnesota got a D+ in its report card.

There were two "bright" spots that more than likely kept Minnesota from getting an F.   The Legislative Auditor and the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act.

In the more detail report, it highlights the weaknesses of Minnesota laws and institutions.

In the report it states:

"One of the bright spots in the state is the Office of the Legislative Auditor.  The Office is widely seen as non-partisan, aggressive, and even-handed in its approach to auditing and evaluating state agencies and programs.  In 1973, a private study group recommended creation of an office in the legislative branch comparable to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a non-partisan governmental “watchdog” at the national level."

I applaud the Legislative Auditor for calling out publicly when higher ups in government are not doing their due diligence in producing documents when they are asked for.

By the way I did a post last year to where the Legislative Auditor may not have enough money to do its "full" job in a keen and constant fashion this current biennium.  Is that still true? 

Is the Legislative Auditor's nose still cut to smell government wrong?