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Minn. lawmakers ease off constitutional changes

Associated Press Published: November 18, 2012
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ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Democrats taking over the Minnesota Legislature are avoiding bold promises to change the state's constitution after voters decisively rejected two Republican-backed amendments earlier this month.

The defeated amendments to ban gay marriage and require voters to show photo ID were blamed for costing Republicans their legislative majorities by driving opponents of the measures to the polls, where the amendments were the first to fail in 18 years. About three-quarters of the constitutional changes proposed in the past 40 years have passed.

"I actually think the constitution has been abused some in recent years," said incoming Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk. Bakk said he doesn't intend to entertain proposals to raise taxes, spend money or deal with social issues in the constitution.

GOP constitutional proposals proliferated in the past two years as their majorities sought to limit state spending, make it harder to raise taxes, curb labor unions and reject the federal health care overhaul. With Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton blocking much of that, they turned to the constitution; the governor has no power to block proposed amendments from a citizen vote.

Incoming DFL House Majority Leader Erin Murphy said she expects Democrats to be "circumspect" about pushing constitutional amendments when they take over.

"We shouldn't do it if we're trying to get around a governor who disagrees with public policy being discussed," said Murphy, DFL-St. Paul.

That's not expected to be much of an issue with Democrats controlling all of state government for the first time in 22 years. But Democratic-Farmer-Labor lawmakers have introduced their share of constitutional amendments in recent years, including proposals to guarantee universal health care, overhaul oversight of legislative salaries and give legislators longer terms in office.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, predicted Democrats' restraint toward the constitution will wear off as the new majorities exercise their power.

"They're going to pass their agenda," said Drazkowski, who has pursued amendments to bar union membership as a condition of employment and to prevent the federal health insurance mandate from taking effect. "We're not going to have any Republican-authored constitutional amendment proposals that are going to be passed through this Legislature, because they won't allow it."

Murphy and Bakk in past sessions have introduced constitutional amendments that would raise the threshold for putting amendments on the ballot, requiring approval from legislative supermajorities instead of simple majorities. Both say they haven't decided whether to pursue that proposal now that they're in power. Bakk said he doesn't expect the Senate to take up constitutional proposals until 2014.

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