‘Unsession’ gets 1,175 obsolete laws off the state’s books
ST. PAUL -- It’s no longer a crime in Minnesota to carry fruit in an illegally sized container. The state’s telegraph regulations are gone. And it’s legal to drive a car in neutral — if you can figure out how to do it.
Those were among the 1,175 obsolete, unnecessary and incomprehensible laws that Gov. Mark Dayton and the Legislature repealed this year as part of the governor’s “unsession” initiative. His goal was to make state government work better, faster and smarter.
“I think we’re off to a very good start,” Dayton said Tuesday at a Capitol news conference.
In addition to getting rid of outdated laws, the project made taxes simpler, cut bureaucratic red tape, sped business permits and required state agencies to communicate in plain language.
“We got rid of all the silly laws,” said Tony Sertich, the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board commissioner who headed Dayton’s effort.
Well, not quite all of them. They kept a law on the books that requires state Agriculture Commissioner Dave Frederickson to personally capture or destroy any wild boar that gets loose in Minneapolis or St. Paul. Sertich said it’s conceivable that such a critter could wander into the cities.
The two biggest reforms, he said, are speeding the business-permit process and the plain-language requirement.
Under a new law, the Pollution Control Agency and Department of Natural Resources must attempt to issue environmental permits to businesses within 90 days. The administration estimates 11,000 of the 15,000 permit requests it receives each year will meet that goal. More complex permits will be issued within 150 days.
Dayton issued an executive order in March directing state agencies to communicate with citizens and businesses in easy-to-understand language. Thousands of state employees have received plain-language training.
As a result, “you’ll see better customer service,” Sertich said.
For instance, a new DNR website makes it easier for anglers to view fishing regulations and campers to book state park campsites.
A $447 million tax cut bill that Dayton signed in March not only provided income tax relief but it also simplified filing returns by making state tax law conform to changes in the federal tax code. Those revisions “made tax forms easier to understand and less time-consuming to prepare” for more than 1 million Minnesota taxpayers, the governor said.
Another new law cuts in half the amount of time businesses must retain employment records.
Legislators launched an initiative that got rid of more than 30 advisory boards, councils and task forces that had outlived their usefulness.
Dayton thanked the “hundreds of state employees and thousands of Minnesota citizens” who submitted unsession ideas.
Most of the new laws were passed with strong bipartisan support, Sertich said, “We all agree government should work better.”
The only initiative that failed, he said, was a measure intended to speed up the administrative rule-making process. Some Republican lawmakers argued that proposal would have shifted too much power from elected representatives to unelected bureaucrats.
Although Dayton acknowledged that many of the unnecessary and obsolete laws probably would have been scrapped eventually without his initiative, he said his push helped get it done quicker.
“Things don’t get undone in government very readily,” he said.
The Pioneer Press is a media partner with Forum News Service.