Legislative notebook: Move afoot to sunset some state agencies

Minnesota state boards, commissions and even entire agencies could begin disappearing if legislators agree to bills making their way through the Legislature.

The House State Government Finance Committee approved one bill Tuesday and considered a second to create a “sunset commission” charged with the job of determining whether parts of state government deserve to continue.

“It is a commission to do away with other commissions, agencies and boards,” Rep. Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, said.

With the Minnesota House and Senate now in the hands of Republicans, many bills are being considered to shrink government, including cutting spending. Texas Republicans used a sunset commission to reduce the budget $1 billion and Peppin modeled her bill after Texas.

Nothing now is in place to avoid Minnesota government duplication and make sure agencies are run efficiently, Peppin said.

Peppin’s bill, which could be folded into a larger state-government measure, would establish a 12-member sunset commission, with no legislators allowed. A sunset commission in another bill would be made up mostly of lawmakers.

The second bill, by Rep. King Banaian, R-St. Cloud, includes more examination than in a sunset commission. The bill, which the government committee sent to the House Ways and Means Committee, features provisions to require the Legislature to look at every agency’s budget much more closely.

Banaian said that instead of making decisions on future budgets based on what an agency currently receives, his bill requires the Legislature to look at every bit of spending every four years. It is called “zero-based budgeting.”

“All parts of government should be subjected to periodic review,” Banaian said.

Rep. Kerry Gauthier, DFL-Duluth, joined other Democrats in questioning the Peppin-Banaian approach.

“Why do we need another layer of government?” Gauthier asked.

The representative said he fears agencies will spend time and money “on self-preservation.”

Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown, said she welcomed discussion on the topic, but wondered why a new commission is needed since the Legislature is in place to make such decisions.

Peppin said that lawmakers have too little time to examine individual agencies closely enough.

 Permit bill moves

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency estimates that it would need about eight new employees to sped permits through as quickly as many legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton want.

The Senate Finance Committee Tuesday approved a bill setting a 150-day goal of the agency and the Department of Natural Resources issuing environmental permits. The bill, like one already passed by the House, is a priority of legislative Republicans in an effort to help businesses expand.

The Senate bill is written by Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria.

Sen. Doug Magnus, R-Slayton, said state agencies need to speed along the permitting process because South Dakota advertisements are attracting away Minnesota businesses.

The Pollution Control Agency’s Jeff Smith told the committee that more than two-thirds of permit applications his agency received are incomplete. That upset some lawmakers, including Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, who said such a high rate means there is a problem in the process.

 Commissioners picked

Gov. Mark Dayton appointed his final three commissioners Tuesday, filling out his Cabinet.

A New York City official will become Minnesota’s administration commissioner, an attorney in the Ramsey County attorney’s office will lead the Human Rights Commission and a current worker to lead the Bureau of Mediation Services was promoted.

The Senate must confirm the appointments.

Minnesota native Spencer Cronk will lead the Administration Department, which serves other state agencies with management and professional services and resources. He is leaving a New York job, where he was leader of organizational development and senior advisor for the Small Business Services Department.

Cronk also has worked in Oakland, Calif., after gradating from the University of Wisconsin in Madison.

Kevin Lindsey takes over as human rights commissioner.

He is a University of Iowa graduate who has worked in private practice and for Ramsey County.

Josh Tilsen becomes the new Bureau of Medication Services commissioner. He has spent 30 years dealing with issues the bureau handles.

The bureau works to resolve state labor contract and grievance disputes.

 Ritchie against ID

Democratic Secretary of State Mark Ritchie came out strongly against a Republican plan to require Minnesota voters to present photo identification before voting.

Ritchie told a House committee Tuesday that he foresees federal intervention in Minnesota, as well as lawsuits, if the bill passes. The bill could create a different class of voters, he said, because some people do not have IDs.

Ritchie said requiring a photo ID would stop the common practice of mail-only ballots in some rural areas as well as threaten absentee voting.

Voter photo ID has been a strong Republican priority. If it does not make its way into law, there is a chance that Republicans could pass a constitutional amendment proposal that would be voted on by the public in November of 2012.

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