Tag Archives: Minnesota Legislative Reference Library

Creating a culture of encounter – some info tools

Creating a culture of encounter

My first reaction was negative, until I realized that, heretofore in this democracy, “encounter” has not been a pejorative term. “Creating a culture of encounter” is the theme of National Migration Week 2017 (January 8-14), an initiative of the U.S. Conference of Bishops. Though the effort may be dismissed as parochial, it is one of numerous immigration-related initiatives ongoing and forthcoming in the faith community. It also signals the urgency to concentrate our thoughts and energy on the challenge before us.

The persistance of plans to Build the Wall permeates the nation’s political and social discourse. The leadership of the faith community is needed and readily accessible at this hour.

By training and habit, my inclination is to start with the facts – and there is no better source than Ballotpedia for a profile of immigration facts across the nation:  https://ballotpedia.org/Immigration_in_the_United_States

For an overview of the complexities and legal intricacies of family-based integration the authoritative Congressional Research Service has prepared this excellent report: https://fas.org/sgp/crs/homesec/R43145.pdf

To understand the human pain of mass deportation read this commentary published in the Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/27/us-mexico-mass-deportations-refugees-central-america

Minnesota resources:

Resources that reflect the current state of immigration in Minnesota abound; these are some good starting points for state-specific information – they’ll lead to more (maybe more than you want to know about the issues…..)

Just a few Minnesota organizations that are taking a lead – these will lead you to countless others::

Resources that illuminate the lives of immigrants:

On an ongoing basis follow Greg Aamot’s articles in MinnPost: https://www.minnpost.com/author/gregg-aamot

These are simply sparks that may kindle the quest to create a culture of encounter — encounters of the sort that fuel the mind, warm the heart, build and sustain a just society.










Minnesota Constitution – A Work in Progress

It’s Sunshine Week, the annual shout out to open government – a great way to celebrate is to dig deep into some of the information by and about state and local government.  Though for the most part focus is on open meetings and data access, public information resources in libraries, archives and museums throughout the state – and increasingly online – offer a rich record of Minnesotans through the decades.  An armchair dip into the online resources will expand your definition of access to government information.  Warning – you may lose yourself in the stories.

Because we are currently floundering in information and misinformation about State Constitutional amendments, I took a mental dip into the historic records of the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, one of the state’s information treasures.  It came as no surprise to learn that staff at LRL had collected and preserved everything anyone could ever want to know about the history of  proposed amendments to the State Constitution whether the amendment was adopted or rejected.

Suffice to say, since the first amendment was proposed and approved there have been scores of proposals.  That first amendment, passed May 1, 1858, was to establish state government.   That same year the people of Minnesota adopted an amendment to authorize a $5 million railroad loan – an amendment the voters repealed two years later in an amendment that required popular approval of tax to pay railroad bonds.  The more things change…

In a different vein in 1865 and again in 1867 Minnesotans rejected proposed amendments to authorize Negroes to vote, an amendment that finally passed in 1868.  By 1875 Minnesotans authorized the legislature to grant women suffrage in school affairs – the school board members probably had a hankering for pie and coffee at their meetings.  Two years later Minnesota males rejected a proposal amendment to authorize women to vote in local elections.

The Governor was authorized to use the veto pen with passage1876 of a 1876 amendment to allow the chief executive to veto appropriation bills.  Next came an era of government organization.  Voters approved amendments to establish biennial sessions (1877), to extend terms of representatives to two and six years (1877) and to prohibit special legislation on certain subjects (1881), while they rejected a proposal to regulate compensation of legislators in 1881.

In 1886 the issue was the provision of loans to state school funds to counties and school districts.  By 1896 voters approved an amendment to permit cities, towns and villages as well as counties and school districts, to borrow school and university funds.   Tax issues took precedence as voters approved of inheritance taxes (1896)  and taxing large corporations (1896) while rejecting several tax-related initiatives.

In 1898 Minnesotans wisely approved an amendment to permit women to vote for and serve on library boards.

An initiative and referendum proposal was rejected by handily rejected by voters in 1914 and again in 1916.  In 1918 Minnesotans narrowly rejected an amendment to prohibit the manufacture and the sale of liquor.

Minnesota voters rejected a 1952 proposal to clarify the meaning of who shall be entitled to vote.  Four-year terms for constitutional offers were approved in 1958. That same year voters approved three to one to prescribe the place where a person moving to a new precinct within 30 days before an election may vote, eliminating obsolete provisions on the voting rights of persons of Indian blood.   By the same margin Minnesotans approved a 1960 amendment to provide for succession to the office of government to provide for continuity of government emergencies caused by enemy attack.

Many Minnesotans voting in the 2012 election will recall casting a ballot, or being confused by some more recent proposals including authorization the 1988 of a state-operated lottery;  in 1990 the vote was to dedicate 40% of the lottery proceeds to the environment  and natural resources.  That amendment covered the trust fund until 2001; in 1998 the environmental trust fund, expanded to include preservation of the state’s arts and cultural heritage and increased ales and use tax was approved by a huge majority; by 2008 voters were more divided but approved what is known today as the Heritage Fund.

These are just a new of the two hundred plus amendments rejected or approved  by Minnesotans since 1858.  Topics of proposed amendment run the gamut – government organization to taxes to the courts, the railroads, farms, highways, lotteries and prohibition.  This year it’s the Marriage Amendment.

Lots more on the history and the ratification process on the LRL website.  This take on the state’s bumpy constitutional history offers an intriguing mental excursion for Sunshine Week and an informed approach to the 2012 election.  Click on the LRL website and explore how Minnesotans have spoken up on a host of issues over the decades.

Open Government Issues on Minnesota Legislative Agenda

If all politics is local, policies, laws and regulations pertaining to state and local government information are hyperlocal.  What matters to most citizens is the right to access to information by and about state, regional and local government information – state agencies, county boards, advisory committees and regulators, every entity from the Governor’s office to the local school board.  A citizen who wants to know about a dump sight or a school bullying or a state agency budget doesn’t – and should not — have far to go.

The spirit, if not the letter, of the state statute that establishes state information policy is clear:

All government data collected, created, received, maintained or disseminated by a government entity shall be public unless classified by state, or temporary classification pursuant in section 13.6 (Discoverability of non-public information), or federal law, as nonprofit or protected nonpublic, or with respect to data on individuals, as private or confidential.  The responsible authority in every government entity shall keep records containing government data in such an arrangement and condition as to make them easily accessible for convenient use.  Photographic, photostatic, microphotographic, or microfilmed records shall be considered as accessible for convenient use regardless of the size of such records. Minnesota Statute 130.3 Access to government data: Subdivision 1. Public.

The twin pillars of access in Minnesota are the Data Practices Act and the Open Meeting Law.  Essential guides to each include these:  Open Meeting Law, Government Data Practices ActThe Legislative Reference Library also offers a comprehensive list of guides and information about parallel laws and regulations in other states.

Still, in real life agencies have a way of setting their own procedures in light of the laws and regulations on the books. Concerned citizens need to be aware of the agencies’ responsibilities to assure compliance with the spirit and the letter of the law.  In this day of rapidly changing technologies access can be determined by everything from the assumption that everyone has web access to outright bureaucratic resistance to officials’ failure to know either their responsibilities or the public’s right to know.  Many local officials and state agency staff have had no orientation to the ways in which state access regulations relate to their work.

As the legislators unpack their laptops, there is talk among bureaucrats and advocacy groups of review and possible revision of state statutes relating to information practices.  A draft prepared by the Information Policy Advisory Division, the state bureaucracy that deals with such matters, is generating blog reaction before it goes on stage.

Prognosticating what will happen during any legislative session is ill-advised; this season it is downright foolhardy.  Still, open discussion of open government may shed light on the law, its implementation, the need for clarification, simplification or more stringent sanctions and ways to assure that Minnesotans know and exercise their information rights.

During the legislative session the place to go for information on the status of legislation relating to information policy and practice is the Bill Search and Status site fed diligently by overworked legislative staffers.  In addition to the latest information on the status of individual bills the site provides excellent guides including “How to Follow a Bill” and “How a Bill Becomes a Law” as well as a handy look-up feature if you want to reach your member.








Timeline Offers an Essential Guide to Laws Affecting Minnesota Women

With legislative politics on the front burner, the time is propitious to write about a public information resource I have long intended highlight:  The Minnesota Women’s Legislative Timeline: Significant Legislation Passed by the Minnesota Legislature Since Suffrage is  a joint project of the Office on the Economic Status of Women and the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, funded in part by the Minnesota Historical Society with Legacy funds..

As stated in the introduction, “the objective of the timeline is to have a visual display of the history of significant laws for women, passed by the Minnesota Legislature, since the advent of women’s suffrage.”  The authors add that, though “Minnesota approved the suffrage amendment in 1919…the 19th Amendment wasn’t fully ratified until 1920.”

The resulting timeline is truly revelatory, a legislative take on how change happens.  In 1931 the issue was women jurors, then came changes in protective labor laws (1924), child desertion (1931) and common law marriage (1941).

It is not surprising to note that the 40’s and 50’s saw little legislative action on social issues, including women’s concerns.

By the mid-1960’s the pace had quickened.  In 1967 the Legislature created the Department of Human Rights which included a division to assist women.  That law was amended in 1969 to include protections against discriminatory wage rates based on gender in the workplace. .

Focus moved to changes in workplace-related legislation with passage of parental leave (1989) followed a decade later by laws dealing with pregnant employees and accommodations for nursing mothers in 1998.  21st Century legislation turns to grave concerns related to issues of sex trafficking (2005-2009) and domestic violence (2010).

These are highpoints only.  The timeline is far more comprehensive, meticulously annotated with legal references and links to the law.  For many of the entries the compilers offer a clear and concise explanatory essay.  The timeline also includes biographies of all of Minnesota’s women legislators.

Taken as a whole, the unique resource offers an overview of how change happens in the legislative arena – progress made and next steps.

The Minnesota Women’s Legislative Timeline stands as a tribute to the vision and work of librarians who maintained, organized and probed the legalrecord, the power of collaboration among state agencies, the impact of Legacy funds and the power of digital tools to expand access to essential public information.


Messages on the move – A closer look

One of the side effects of this winter flows from the snail’s pace of traffic.  There is ample opportunity to observe, then reflect upon, the diversity of license places that bear the “Minnesota” label.   For the first time I have paid serious heed to optional plates purchased at a premium and proudly sported by Minnesota drivers with a cause or a condition.  A recent update from the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library announced a new publication from the Minnesota House of Representatives Research Department that puts the parade of license plates in contact.  Legislative Analyst Matt Burress tells us all we could ever have wanted to know about special license plates.

In his introduction Burress underscores that his overview and discussion will focus on “donation plates” that “provide funding for a specific program or organization from a contribution that is provided in addition to a typical plate fee.”  His offer of more information about license places – financing, costs and revenues, policy questions in creating a new special plate and general trends in other states compelled me to read on, where I learned more than I could have imagined about what goes on behind the bureaucracy that is on the surface as mundane as it is mandatory.

First, there are the types of places.  Burress identifies the following classes:

v     Collector plates for older vehicles;

v     Donation plates that require an additional contribution for a specific group or program;

v     Organization affiliation plates reflecting membership in a particular group;

v     Personalized plates bearing a unique sequence of numbers and letters set by the person requesting the plate;

v     Veteran and military plates representing separate military conflicts and veteran statuses; and

v     Other special plates for a particular status or type of vehicle.

When I was young we used to covet and collect spottings of license plates from other states.  In this mobile world that’s passé.  It seems to me that today’s challenge should be for the passenger to collect one tag from each of these categories.  The eagle-eye license plate identifier (EELPI)  ought to win, if only the unstinting respect for his/her visual acumen and rapid reflexes.  The challenge is there – of the 1.06 million Minnesota plates issued in 2010 only 8.4% fall in the “special plate” category.  Though thee highest number of special plates promoted the critical habitat several special plates adorn fewer than 500 vehicles.

Burress is meticulous in reporting on the fiscal impact of license purchases.  “In fiscal year 2010 for all plates combined, total revenue after costs amounted to a little under $475,000.  Regular passenger plates yielded a net cost of $674,000 and special plates yielded $967,000 in revenue.  Among special plates, personalized plates were the main revenue generator at about $731,000 in revenue.”

Most drivers and those who keep on eye on the traffic flow recognize three types of plates – regular passenger plates, the default plate for cars, vans, SUVs and other passenger vehicles.  Special plates contain some type of nonstandard design and can be obtained by request for passenger cars; in some cases a special is available for motorcycles, pickups or recreational vehicles.  Other vehicle plates are most often issued for specific types of vehicles (motorcycles, trucks, farm vehicles, buses, RVs or other special status, e.g. dealers, ownership by a tax-exempt entity.  Again there is a host of classes for other vehicle plates.

The category of special plates is complicated, to say the least..  These optional plates carry a different inscription, emblem, color scheme or background from regular plates.  In most cases,  purchase of the plates support or express a special interest.  Examples noted by Burress include veterans plates, firefighters, amateur radio buffs, classic cars, persons with disabilities and a number of colleges.  Many carry a requirement for purchase, e.g. past military service.  Burress reports that currently there are nearly 50 distinct special plates plus additional emblems and designs; he categorizes these as follows:  Collector, Donation, Organization/group affiliation, personalized, beterans and military,  and other special plates that reflect an applicant’s special status, e.g disability plates, limos, commuter vans and plates for impounded vehicles.

Most license plates carry a plate fee, generally set to cover the overall costs of program administration.  The fee for special plates is typically higher than for regular plates.  It’s interesting to note that, whereas there is a net cost of approximately $674,000 for regular plates, special plates, considered in toto, generate more than enough revenue ($967,000) to garner considerable profit to the state.

Any organization or institution – college, vets, public cause or other – with the thought of introducing a special plate will do well to consult Burress’ extensive information about existing plates and pending proposals.  The process is not simple but the report spells it out in careful detail so that the organization has clear guidelines and options.

This research document, prepared by the Research Department at the House of Representatives, posted on the website of the Legislative Reference Library, is a model of how the system should work — sound research well presented and widely shared by the State of Minnesota.  It offers an excellent example of access to government information, a right that Minnesotans need to recognize, appreciate and support as the Legislature convenes to grapple with the many facets of access.

One consequence of the report – possibly unanticipated —  is a sort of rule book for young passengers for whom the long ride in confined quarters calls for a lively diversion, possibly a chance to learn something about the array of licensing options and the conditions and causes they reflect.  Parker Brothers take note!