There is a huge amount of information on the web about the Legislature, as well as state laws and rules. Below you will find links to some of the most useful areas, and some tips for finding the info you need.
A good place to start is the general website for the legislature at www.leg.state.mn.us. This site has links to the House of Representatives, Senate, bill tracking, committee schedules, laws and statutes, Minnesota rules, and other good information.
The House of Representatives site at www.house.leg.state.mn.us and the Senate site at www.senate.leg.state.mn.us have general info about the House and Senate, including:
- member information (including maps of legislative districts)
- committee membership lists
- staff directories
- publications lists
- and more.
Both sites also have links to the Journal of that body, which is a record of all official action taken, and is the place to go if you want to see the floor vote on a particular bill or amendment, or the wording on a floor amendment. (More on this below.)
Statutes, Laws, and Rules
The revised statutes are a compilation of all permanent law of general application that have been enacted by the legislature. The statutes can be found at www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/pubs; there also are buttons for the index, or to do a search of the statutes. (You can also go directly to Chapters 120 to 129B, which specifically govern education, at https://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/status?view=part&start=120&close=129B. At the end of each session, the Office of the Revisor of Statutes updates the revised statutes by incorporating all changes enacted that year; this process takes about six months. Only the current edition is displayed. Minnesota Statutes 2007 are finished and displayed at the site.
The session laws are a collection of all of the laws enacted in a given year, shown as they were passed by the legislature, and not placed in context of laws passed in previous years. Session laws are most easily found https://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/laws. (You will have to hit the button by the word “sessions” and select the year you want to see. Note that special sessions are separate from regular sessions.) The session laws come in handy if you are looking at a particular provision, such as the referendum levy, and you want to see exactly how it was changed in a past year or years. Each session law shows the changes made in that particular law with strikeouts and underlining. Further, the session laws contain appropriations, along with the all-important language attached to appropriations (this language is called an “appropriation rider”). Appropriations sections are not incorporated into the revised statutes because appropriations are regarded as temporary provisions that lapse when the money has been spent.
Minnesota rules are rules adopted by state agencies, under authority delegated by legislation, and are found at https://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/arule. You can find the rules of the Department of Education at https://www.revisor.leg.state.mn.us/arule/a230.html. Rules are also considered state law.
Bills Under Consideration
Bills are proposed laws. Many bills never become law; in fact, quite a few bills never even get a hearing in a committee, either because the author has no intention of asking for a hearing, or because the committee chair is not willing to give the bill a hearing. If approved by a majority of both the House and the Senate as well as the governor, a bill becomes an Act, which means it becomes law and joins the session laws and revised statutes.
Find House or Senate bills at www.library.leg.state.mn.us/leg/legis.asp. This page has lots of info, lots of links, and some advice on following bills (scroll down). It also has links to House and Senate staff summaries of bills. Not every bill is summarized, but major ones are, especially on the House side. (When reading a summary, check the date and version, which are indicated in the heading; be sure it matches the current version of the bill.) You can search for bills by author, by topic, by committee—your choice. Once you find the bill you want, you can pull up the text of the bill, and you can also get information about the status of the bill, such as what committees have reviewed it, whether it has been amended, whether it passed the House or Senate, etc. This web page also has hints on how to track the legislative history of a section of the statutes that is clear and helpful—see www.leg.state.mn.us/leg/leghist/histstep.asp.
Caveats About Bills
Here are some important points to be aware of regarding bills.
- It is hard to follow bills (at least from afar) while they are in committee. Most individual bills that are approved in the E-12 finance committees are combined into the omnibus E-12 bill, and there is usually no apparent committee action on those bills. You often can’t tell if an E-12 bill is alive or dead until the E-12 finance committee adopts its omnibus bill for the year; at that point the individual bill may be a single page or two of a 300-page document. The web may indicate that the individual bill is still in the E-12 committee, when in fact it is included in the omnibus bill and is on its way to becoming law. If you are interested in a particular provision, the best thing to do is watch the schedules (found on the general House, Senate, or Legislature pages, see above) so that you will know when a hearing is scheduled, then show up. Of course, it never hurts to talk to the author, your local legislator, or a lobbyist who represents your district. Very, very few individual education finance bills are actually passed as single bills; most are inserted into the omnibus E-12 Finance Bill.
- Sometimes amendments are made to bills, but the most recent version shown on the web does not contain the amendments. The process of incorporating amendments into a bill is called engrossing the bill. Normally bills are engrossed each time they are modified by a committee or by the House or Senate—but this does not always happen, particularly with amendments adopted on the floor of the House or Senate when dealing with a bill that originated in the other body. This is often the case with the E-12 finance bill, which is ordinarily a House bill, and which ordinarily gets amended on the floor of the Senate but does not get engrossed again. (Sometimes, at the request of an author or committee chair, an engrossment will be completed at this point and called an “unofficial engrossment.”) If you want to be absolutely sure that you have all amendments, go to the Journal of the House (for House action) at www.house.leg.state.mn.us/cco/journals/journl.htm or the Journal of the Senate at www.senate.mn/journals/index.php#current (These are now quite easily searched). Once you find the part of the journal where the bill is considered, you can find the amendments, and you can see from the journal whether each passed, what the vote was, etc. When a bill is before the House of Senate for debate, the web pages have hotlinks to the floor amendments: the House is at www.house.leg.state.mn.us/cco/amendmentall.asp and the Senate is at www.senate.leg.state.mn.us/chamber/amendment/amend.php. (The floor amendments are only there for one day. After that, you'll need to go to the journals, as noted above.) Alternatively, look for an “unofficial engrossment” of the bill, found at www.house.leg.state.mn.us/cco/ue.asp. Unofficial engrossments used to be somewhat rare, especially on the Senate side, but this is changing also.
- The conference committee is a critical part of the process for large or controversial bills. In order to become law, a bill must be adopted in exactly the same form by both House and Senate; a conference committee is a committee of 3 or 5 members from each house that has been appointed to iron out the differences. Once a bill enters a conference committee, there will be no further floor or committee action until the conference committee finishes its work (or fails to). Once the conference committee reaches agreement, the final bill is issued as a conference committee report (they can be found under the bill number). Conference committee reports go directly to the floor of the House and Senate for final consideration, and they must be voted up or down at that point—no more amendments allowed. Of course, if the Senate and House agree on the content of a bill and pass the same version, no conference committee is necessary.
Action by the Governor
Once a bill has been approved by both houses of the legislature, it goes to the governor for approval. The governor can sign a bill, veto a bill, or veto one or more appropriations and approve the remainder of the bill (called the “line item veto”). The governor’s actions are shown on the Bill Tracking page. The bill tracking page for the Dayton Administration is at http://mn.gov/governor/policy/legislation/.
Here are a few other useful spots that could be worth visiting, depending on your interests.
- Publications – The House Research Department puts out some interesting and timely publications on a variety of current topics; those on education are found at www.house.leg.state.mn.us/hrd/publications.asp. One item on that list of particular value is Tim Strom’s Minnesota School Finance – A Guide for Legislators, most recently published in 2011. Another good one is Youth and the Law, which every principal and special ed director should know about.
- Spreadsheets and More Publications – The House Fiscal staff now posts all of their tracking spreadsheets, including the aid and levy spreadsheets on the E-12 bill. For another great guidebook, see this one done by Greg Crowe of the House fiscal staff and entitled Financing Education in Minnesota, 2011-12. The Senate fiscal staff posts their spreadsheets (scroll down to the E-12 Budget Division). They also have a number of reports, and some of those contain estimates by school district of aid and revenue that is expected to result from a particular bill or act. (Again, scroll down to find E-12 reports.)
- General Research Source – The Legislative Reference Library has a great site called Links to the World that provides links to all kinds of sites on all kinds of topics. This is a good starting place for any kind of research that you need to do. This link shows in the margins of many of the legislative web pages.
- Public Pensions – Due to the complexity of public pension plans and associated law, the legislature has created a joint commission consisting of Senators and Representatives to deal with these issues. All legislation regarding public pension plans must go through the Legislative Commission on Pensions and Retirement (LCPR), before being considered by the House or Senate. Their staff does excellent analytical work on the issues before the commission, and much of this is available at their website.
- Minnesota Constitution – The highest order of state law, of course, is the state constitution. The education provision is found in article XIII (Miscellaneous Subjects), section 1. Also of interest is article IV (Legislative Department), particularly section 23 of that article, which covers approval of bills by the governor, veto power, etc.
- MSBA website – The Minnesota School Board Association has a website with a lot of current info about activities at the legislature, including their hot line phone number for legislative updates, and the text of previous hot line messages. Click on the “Government Relations” tab.