Minn. lawmakers ease off constitutional changes

Associated Press Published: November 18, 2012
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Since statehood in 1858, voters have approved more than half of 213 proposed constitutional amendments, most recently ratifying an increase in the state sales tax for the outdoors and the arts in 2008. They voted to abolish the office of state treasurer in 1998, authorize the state lottery in 1988 and permit pari-mutuel horse racing in 1982. The last amendment to fail before this election was a push for off-track horse betting in 1994.

Lawmakers sometimes propose constitutional changes to draw attention to their ideas. One Republican-backed bill that never made it before voters would have protected the right to wear fur and display trophy animals.

Rep.-elect David Bly, a Northfield Democrat returning to the House after a two-year absence, said he may pursue an amendment he sponsored earlier that would require the Legislature to provide "quality public education, comprehensive health care, an economic and social environment conducive to living wage jobs, a safe and reliable transportation system and a clean and safe environment."

Bly said amendments can help start a conversation about an issue, although he's not sure his "middle-class amendment" would survive the legislative process.

"But I think it's important enough to try," he said.

Sen. Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis, said she won't revive a constitutional amendment for universal health care she backed five years ago.

"Really, at this point in Minnesota, there is no need for us to really enter that conversation — to go into the constitution," she said.

Bakk said a proposed amendment would have to be "of constitutional magnitude" to get serious consideration under his leadership. The Cook Democrat opposed DFL-backed constitutional amendments that reserved tax dollars for transportation in 2006 and outdoors and cultural projects in 2008.

"Once you put something in the constitution, the Legislature loses their ability to respond to changing public opinion," he said. "So I don't want to amend the constitution with things that make it so rigid that the Legislature can't respond to changing priorities down the road."

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