In a recent issue of the Minnesota Lawyer Kevin Featherly wrote an article about Legislative Intent – what did legislators really mean when they enacted some new legislation. And as part of his article, he wrote about S.F. 1113.
After talking with Ellen Jaquette, reference librarian with the Minnesota Historical Society, she mentioned that the “juiciest” historical resource that researchers can use are the audio recordings of committee hearings.
Mr. Featherly then wrote:
Pauline Afuso, Washington County’s law librarian, went directly to the audiotapes when trying to determine the purpose of a bill that she fears might impact her library and others across the state.
Her issue is over Senate File 1113 and its identical companion, House File 1390. The bill passed the Senate on March 20 by a unanimous 64-0 vote. It received its second reading on the House floor March 23.
The legislation says that if a law library has reserves big enough to sustain operations for five years, it can transfer half of that money, up to $200,000, to county government. The cash then can be used in “constructing a new building to house the law library and courts,” the bill says.
Those last two words — “and courts” — were a flashing red warning sign for Afuso. “Why is that in there?” she said. “Why would we want to spend money to go and build a court?” She went to legislative committee-meeting audio tapes to find out if that is what the law intended. She thinks she found it in March 2 testimony from the House bill’s author, Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River.
Zerwas told House Government Operations and Elections Policy Committee members that his was “a local bill having only to do with Sherburne County.” The county, he explained, is remodeling and expanding its government operations center and the bill would allow the library to dedicate funds toward that project.
But its impact could span far beyond Sherburne County, Afuso insists. Whether intended or not, she thinks it might allow any county to divert money raised to support law libraries toward court-related capital projects, she said. That is not what the money is for, she said.
“Why not just say that a law library can donate money if it wants to and then leave it up to the discretion of the board of trustees?” she said. “Why is it saying all these weird things?”
As of April 25, this bill is still on the General Register. There is still time for you to contact your representatives and ask that they reject this bill.
Thanks to the Minnesota Lawyer for allowing us to publish this excerpt of the article, “Legislative intent remains go-to research resource,” by Kevin Featherly, printed online on April 19, 2017 at http://minnlawyer.com/2017/04/19/legislative-intent-remains-go-to-research-resource/, and in the print edition of Minnesota Lawyer, published on April 20, 2017, p. 1, at pg. 24.