Dayton: Legislative 'unsession' could lead to historic results in 2014

House members sworn in
Members of the Minnesota House are sworn in during the first day of the legislative session at the Capitol in St. Paul, Minn. Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2013. Gov. Dayton has already dubbed 2014 the "unsession," because he wants legislators to spend much of their time eliminating old, outdated state laws.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

If Gov. Mark Dayton has his way, next year's legislative session will be unlike any other.

Dayton has already dubbed 2014 the "unsession," because he wants legislators to spend much of their time eliminating old, outdated state laws rather than adding new ones. He's been collecting suggestions on what to get rid of, as well as ideas for making government better, faster and simpler.

Dayton has often said his inspiration for an unsession came from a 1970s-era advertising slogan for 7-Up that billed the soft drink as the "uncola."

The connection between soft drinks and government reform is not easy to make. But Dayton is convinced the different approach of an unsession could bring clear and historic results.

Republican leaders have their own view of what an unsession should be, and it doesn't appear to line up with what the governor has in mind.

"I think that's going to be a huge opportunity to really pare back some of the excesses of government and government rules and regulations and procedures that just take up too much time and are duplicative or redundant or obsolete," the governor said.

Dayton asked state workers and the general public to offer ideas, which were collected online and at the State Fair. The result was 1,579 suggestions. Dayton has been reading them. So has his chief of staff, Tina Smith.

The ideas include one from an employee called "Plain Language Implementation" that aims to cut jargon that many people might not understand from official statements.

There also were suggestions for fewer taxes, a smaller Legislature, a merged higher education system, legalized marijuana and Sunday liquor sales. One person proposed an annual bake sale to boost state finances. Smith said somebody asked for a new Dairy Queen on the east side of St. Paul.

"Now that might be a great idea, but it also might not be an unsession idea," Smith said.

The governor should be able to make some of the recommended efficiency improvements through executive order, Smith said, but bigger changes will require legislation.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said he likes the idea of an unsession. But Bakk, DFL-Cook, cautioned that time will be limited to take up proposals.

"I think we're probably headed for a very short legislative session, coming in on February 25th," he said. "So, people are going to have to get their ideas on paper and in bill form and really ready for introduction probably in that first week or two of the session if anything serious is going to be considered."

Republican leaders have their own view of what an unsession should be, and it doesn't appear to line up with what the governor has in mind. Their priority is trying to undo recent laws put in place by Democrats. At the top of their list are the business-to-business sales taxes passed in the 2013 session.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said he'd also like to take a second look at some of the DFL-backed spending increases from last session.

"In a $37 or $38 billion budget, I'm sure that there are all kinds of places that we can find more efficiencies and more savings," said Daudt, R-Crown. "So, I think it's a great opportunity to continue to look for those things, and hopefully we can find quite a few."

House Speaker Paul Thissen said he likes the governor's unsession idea. He said the Legislature should always be looking for ways to improve government services and eliminate outdated laws.

But Thissen, DFL-Minneapolis, does not see it as an opportunity for Republicans to revisit the current budget.

"I don't think the governor's approach is about attacking the idea of government itself," he said. "But I think what we're all in favor of is making sure that government works as effectively as possible, and I think the idea of the unsession and forcing ourselves to look at those things in a renewed way is very positive."

Key lawmakers will be meeting with the governor's staff in the coming weeks to discuss specific proposals for the unsession. The Legislature is schedule to return Feb. 25.

UNSESSION IDEAS

Here's a sampling of the ideas submitted by members of the public to Dayton for the 2014 session:

"Run prisons like bootcamps. Require education and physical conditioning along with absolute honor of the staff. Quit making the prisons so 'nice' ... the current system delivers worse citizens upon 'graduating' from prison."

"Why not allow alcohol sales on Sundays? Many people near borders to other states are crossing to purchase alcohol, eliminating the pros to no alcohol sales. We are purposefully sending revenue across the border."

"Community gardens, food shelf gardens, and corporate employee 'giving gardens' are growing in MN. If the state created or allowed employees to create office vegetable gardens on state sites, healthy eating and physical activity would benefit employees, and maybe cut insurance costs in the future."

"I submit that the entire state government, including every member of the legislature, resign and not be able to run for office for at least 6 years to allow new people with new ideas a chance to govern."

"St. Paul needs a DQ 'Chill Grill' on the corner of Minnehaha and Payne Ave. This is a very diverse neighborhood and with the new Saints stadium going in by the river and the new Food Oasis going in along the Bruce Vento Nature trail this DQ would be very busy. Plus, the Police station and the Fire Dept. and the elementary school would like it too!"

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