Roger Moe on proposals to amend the constitution

As Minnesota's Legislature continues to work on its budget plans, there seems to be a lot of talk about high-profile constitutional amendments. That includes proposals to ban same-sex marriage, require voters to show photo IDs at the polls and require a three-fifths majority to raise taxes.

There are 19 constitutional amendment proposals in the House and 10 in the Senate.

Before any constitutional amendment makes it onto a ballot, it needs to pass through the Rules and Administration Committee.

Former state Sen. Roger Moe, a DFLer who served as Majority Leader for 22 years and chaired the Rules and Administration Committee during that time, spoke with MPR's All Things Considered about constitutional amendments.

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Tom Crann:Are you surprised by the number of constitutional amendments the legislature is considering this session?

Roger Moe: Yes. That's an extraordinary number. Usually you might have one or two in the mix. There were quite a number of sessions that I recall when there were none. So to have that many introduced in the House and the Senate is quite extraordinary.

Crann: Is the strategy here to do an end run around the governor?

Moe: I think that's the case in terms of some of them. Of course it does not require a governor's signature. If passes house and senate, goes to the Secretary of State to be put on ballot for the next election.

Crann: Are there some issues here that work better as a constitutional amendment? In other words, is it always politics or are there some instances in which lawmakers decide it's something that needs to go to a vote among Minnesota's citizens?

Moe: There certainly are things that have been done over the years that are very legitimate issues for a statewide discussion. Some of these issues are literally issues that could be handled through the legislative process and could be offered to the governor to be signed into law. My guess is that in some of the cases, the reason they're proposing constitutional amendments is because they don't think the governor would sign them.

Crann: It sounds like a big deal to hear an amendment of the state's constitution, but it has happened fairly regularly, hasn't it?

Moe: It's not unusual to have a question on the ballot. There was one on the ballot a couple elections ago I didn't think was a particularly good idea to put in the constitution [the legacy amendment that raised the sales tax to fund conservation and cultural heritage]. I didn't disagree with it as a matter of policy. I thought they should have done it legislatively. But now we have it in the constitution , he didn't want it in the constitution, it's locked in, it doesn't give the legislators a lot of flexibility. So periodically you have them come along, but it's not the sort of thing that happens every session and certainly the numbers that you cited — that's quite extraordinary.

(Interview transcribed by MPR reporters Madeleine Baran and Elizabeth Dunbar.)