The American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota today urged lawmakers to be more transparent in decision making, not less, during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Governmental transparency becomes even more essential in times of crisis like this. As the Legislature balances the crucial need to protect public health with the essential need to protect our civil liberties, these debates must play out as openly and with as much public input as possible.
“While the ACLU of Minnesota appreciates that we are in the midst of a health crisis that creates unique difficulties for communication, the very nature of the COVID-19 outbreak makes it all the more essential that our Legislature debate policy and make decisions within the public eye, with public oversight,” said ACLU-MN Executive Director John Gordon. “Policy agreements are being made behind closed doors without even the semblance of a public committee hearing. Government cannot and should not function in secrecy.”
The way the way our state government took two recent votes on COVID-19 legislation is disquieting. According to various media reports and ACLU-MN observations:
- House committees have been meeting in small groups to avoid triggering Open Meetings Law. Working groups made up of a member of each caucus plus the governor’s administration are workshopping policy proposals.
- Most of these meetings were not disclosed until they’d already happened.
- All four legislative leaders agreed on the first COVID-19 bill before it was made public.
- Bill language was not posted until right before the floor session to vote had started.
- Some legislators clearly didn’t have time to read the bill in full before the vote.
- Recent Zoom committee hearings are helpful, but create barriers for people without reliable internet access or who speak languages other than English.
We call on lawmakers to prioritize public accessibility and input; to ensure each meeting that should be public actually is; to hold committee hearings on Zoom; to govern in public committee meetings; to offer translation services for these meetings; and to create as many ways to welcome public input as possible before making decisions.
We appreciate the efforts that have been made on both sides of the aisle to promote openness of government, and we hope that those efforts will continue.
ACLU: We demand government transparency: https://www.startribune.com/aclu-we-demand-government-transparency/569869852/
The saga of the $500 checks illustrates the unusual way the Minnesota Legislature put together its big COVID-19 response bill: https://www.minnpost.com/state-government/2020/04/the-saga-of-the-500-checks- illustrates-the-unusual-way-the-minnesota-legislature-put-together-its-big-covid-19-response- bill/
Minnesota lawmakers to convene Thursday to pass COVID-19 response bill — after working for a week outside the public eye: https://www.minnpost.com/state-government/2020/03/minnesota-lawmakers-to-convene- thursday-to-pass-covid-19-response-bill-after-working-for-a-week-outside-the-public-eye/
Endgame at the Minnesota Legislature has many unhappy with closed process: https://www.startribune.com/in-the-endgame-of-the-legislature-lawmakers-yield-to-the- tribunal/510245302/
Legislatures meet remotely, limit public as virus spreads: https://apnews.com/43b0c06b476bf90c8ab8403ac08a1edf
Don't just complain about government transparency: We must demand that information used for these models, and other data, is made public: https://www.startribune.com/counterpoint-don-t-just-complain-about-government- transparency/569641392/
Initial COVID-19 legislative proposals and working groups: https://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/covid- 19/files/PolicyandBudgetProposals_0324.pdf?v=32420