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GOP streamlines legislative work

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ST. PAUL - Republicans say their action to cut the number of legislative committees illustrates a desire to streamline government.

Few outside of the Capitol may care how many committees are appointed, but House speaker-designate Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove and Senate majority leader-elect Amy Koch of Buffalo used their first official action as a preview for what is to come.

"We have reformed government, starting with ourselves," Zellers said Tuesday, two weeks after Republicans grabbed control of the Minnesota Legislature in the general election.

Minnesotans should see a more effective government, Zellers added.

Ironically, in a year when lawmakers are talking about adding jobs around the state, Republican leaders' first action will mean fewer jobs in the Legislature. While Zellers and Koch could not say how many jobs will be cut, it appears like it will be in the teens. They estimated that the committee changes, as well as other actions, will save between $750,000 and $1 million each biennium.

Some of the savings will be achieved because legislators won't be attending as many committee meetings, thus reducing the amount of per diems they receive.

The Senate is chopping its committees from 25 to 16, while the House is going with 24 instead of the previous 38.

"It means there is one-stop shopping," Zellers said, because many bills no longer will pass through multiple committees that often requires witnesses to make several trips to the Capitol.

During a stop in Alexandria Wednesday, Koch listed several benefits of the new alignment - more accountability, greater transparency because bills will be easier to track, and since lawmakers will not be spending so much time in committees, they'll have more time to meet with their constituents.

The GOP leaders said the goal is to make the Legislature more "user friendly" and make it easier for legislators to connect with residents in their district.

One new feature they plan to implement is designating Fridays as "District Days" - an opportunity for lawmakers to go back to their district and get input from citizens.

In-coming House and Senate leaders worked together so the committees were coordinated between chambers.

Standing next to a jumbled chart showing how the current committee structure works, Zellers called it spaghetti. The new committee chart shows a smoother process for bills.

Koch said the new system should allow committees more time to study issues.

In-coming DFL House leader Paul Thissen of Minneapolis both praised and questioned the new committee structure.

"A streamlined committee structure makes sense and both parties have been working on it," Thissen said. "The real question is, 'To what end?' The real test of the Republicans will be how they use their committees."

Echo Press Editor Al Edenloff contributed to this story.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.