This case affirms the need for transparent and accountable government in Minnesota.
On April 18, 2018, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that the Legislature did not violate the single-subject clause when it stuck into an omnibus bill a provision stripping the State Auditor’s office of substantial duties and funding.
In February 2016 Minnesota State Auditor Rebecca Otto sued Wright, Becker, and Ramsey counties, challenging a Minnesota statute passed in violation of the “single-subject clause” of the Minnesota Constitution. The statute purports to allow counties to retain privately-owned, for-profit accounting firms to conduct audit of their finances instead of using the Statute Auditor’s office to do so.
The Minnesota Constitution imposes this rule on the Legislature: “No law shall embrace more than one subject, which shall be expressed in its title.” About 40 other states have similar rules. Enforcing such a rule accomplishes three goals: preventing legislative mischief that results from bills being loaded up with unrelated provisions to force legislators to vote for provisions they don’t want; preserving a meaningful role for the governor’s veto (Minnesota governors can veto individual budget items in bills, but not policy provisions); and preventing voter confusion and deception. In short, the single-subject rule promotes transparency and good government.
Upholding the single-subject rule is necessary to ensure that members of the Minnesota legislature are transparent in their deliberations and voting. The practice of combining unrelated issues in a single piece of legislation obscures how legislators are voting on specific issues, making it challenging for Minnesota residents to hold them accountable. The continued ambiguity and inconsistency surrounding the single-subject rule only serves to further the interests of state politicians at the expense of the knowledge and power of Minnesotans.
The ACLU-MN agreed with plaintiff that a single-subject rule was violated in this case, and filed a friend-of-the-court brief supporting her in the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals ruled that the statute did not violate the Single-Subject Clause, and the case is now headed to the Minnesota Supreme Court.
The ACLU-MN asserts that a more robust policy should be adopted to determine if legislation complies with the Single-Subject Clause—including adopting a clear standard that can be consistently used by the Courts. Noncompliance with the Single-Subject Clause will continue to undermine the democratic process and further disenfranchise Minnesotans and alienate them from the political process.