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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published January 14 2012

Minnesota Political Notebook: Citizen-lobbyist wants Legislature to open up

ST. PAUL - Minnesota’s best-known citizen-lobbyist on open government issues says the Legislature needs to be, as they say around the Capitol, more transparent.

Rich Neumeister has prowled the Capitol’s halls for years fighting for public access and recently took on controversial departures of two state officials. He concluded that in both cases, “with these decisions happening within the Legislature, the public may never know why.”

The Legislature lives under different rules from other public bodies and can do more in secret.

One of Neumeister’s questions come over what has been described as the firing of Michael Brodkorb, who was a key aide to then-Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch and chief spokesman for Senate Republicans. He left the Senate just after four senators confronted Koch for having “inappropriate relations” with a Senate employee she supervised.

The other issue was what was reported as another firing: Susan Thornton, who directed the Legislative-Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources. The twist here is that House Speaker Kurt Zellers, who apparently fired Thornton, later suspended that action.

Those involved in both incidents refuse to discuss details.

Neumeister said information available to the public about the two incidents is “virtually nothing because the Legislature is not subject to the Minnesota Government Data Practices Act” and laws that govern other governments’ personnel decisions.

“If there was a firing of a high executive official in any other part of our state government or the judiciary, per their own rules which mirror the Data Practices Act, the public would know ‘the specific reasons for the action and data documenting the basis of the action,’ ” Neumeister wrote in his blog. “There are some limited exceptions, but overall, the data is public. Not the case with the Legislature.”

It is obvious how Neumeister thinks a key question he asks should be answered: “Should the public not be able to have accountability and transparency for Legislative personnel matters, as is done with the executive and judicial branches?”

Vulnerable help

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, plans to push a bill to make intentional neglect of a vulnerable adult a felony.

The senator said that Minnesotans live longer, despite serious disabilities, so the vulnerable are a larger part of the state’s population.

“This is the second step in a year to protect vulnerable adults in Minnesota, filling an important missing piece in current law, and that is having a criminal penalty that fits the serious crime of intentional neglect of people who cannot protect themselves,” Limmer said.

3 back health law

Three Minnesota Democratic lawmakers have filed court papers supporting a new federal health care law.

Rep. Tom Huntley of Duluth, Rep. Erin Murphy of St. Paul and Sen. Tony Lourey of Kerrick announced their decision to join the action, with 483 other legislators across the country. The three Minnesotans are leading DFL health care experts.

Republicans are challenging the law in the U.S. Supreme Court. They call the act “Obamacare.”

“There is no doubt in my mind that the Affordable Care Act is not only constitutional but will do so much in bettering the lives of Americans,” Huntley said. “Many families in Minnesota are already benefiting from reforms that went into effect in 2010: Children with pre-existing conditions have reliable coverage, seniors are getting support to pay for their prescriptions, young people are able to stay on their parents’ plans until they are more financially stable, and businesses are receiving tax credits so they can provide good health coverage for their employees.”

Minge retires

Former U.S. Rep. David Minge is retiring from the state Appeals Court.

Gov. Mark Dayton announced the vacancy and asked the Judicial Selection Commission to begin the process of finding potential replacements.

Minge, 69, has served on the state’s second-highest court since then-Gov. Jesse Ventura appointed him in 2002. Before that, he served four terms in the U.S. House. Mark Kennedy beat Minge when he ran for a fifth term.

Raised in Worthington, Minn., Minge also has been an attorney in private practice and taught law at the University of Wyoming.

Minge’s replacement must come from the 2nd Congressional District, across the southern Twin Cities and further south.

Helping the poor

Lt. Gov. Yvonne Prettner Solon announced a coalition to provide poor Minnesotans a chance to buy healthy foods.

The Minnesota Nutritious Food Coalition joins together state, university, tribal, nonprofit and private business groups.

“More than 500,000 Minnesotans access food support benefits monthly,” Prettner Solon said. “Yet, many more, particularly seniors, are eligible for the program. The guidance, work and support of this coalition will encourage more Minnesotans to take advantage of this program so they can get the nutritious food needed for a healthy lifestyle, not to mention strengthen our local economy.”

The main jobs of the coalition are to address food access issues, increase participation in the federally funded food support program and identify barriers and areas for expansion. It plans an effort to make sure all Minnesotans who are eligible for the federal program have a chance to apply.

The food support program, which used to be known as food stamps, now only serves 65 percent of eligible Minnesotans, the state Human Services Department reports.


Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co.