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Make it clear: Dayton administration wants state law 'spring cleaning'

Dayton administration commissioners Myron Frans, left and Tony Sertich brief reporters Tuesday, March 4, 2014, on proposals the governor made to simplify state government and get rid of laws no longer needed. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)
News Morris,Minnesota 56267
Morris Sun Tribune
Make it clear: Dayton administration wants state law 'spring cleaning'
Morris Minnesota 607 Pacific Avenue 56267

ST. PAUL -- A Minnesota car owner who wants a massive bright yellow bug deflector, with purple polka dots, could install one under a provision Gov.  Mark Dayton proposes.

Now, state law regulates bug deflectors' size and color.

Dayton also wants to eliminate a law that specifies the size of containers in which fruit is sold and one that requires the state agriculture commissioner to round up any wild boar that gets loose in Minneapolis or St. Paul.

The Dayton administration Tuesday proposed changing more than 1,000 laws that the governor says no longer are needed.

Commissioner Tony Sertich of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board called it “spring cleaning.”

During his State of the State speech a year ago, Dayton said this year's Legislature should hold an “unsession,” with lawmakers overturning outdated laws and taking other steps to make government easier to understand and more relevant to citizens.

With Dayton homebound after hip surgery, Sertich handled the duties of introducing the governor's unsession ideas, along with an executive order Dayton signed to require all state agencies under his jurisdiction to use plain language in their work.

The order, which does not apply to legislators and the courts, would require workers to use “language commonly understood by the public, write in short and complete sentences (and) present information in a format that is easy to find and easy to understand.”

Sertich said state workers are undergoing training about how to simplify their communication.

While Dayton could take the plain language action on his own, legislators must vote to change laws. Sertich said that he gave legislative leaders copies of the 1,000 changes Dayton wants to make to laws.

While some like the bug deflector law may be funny, most are serious.

For instance, small businesses must keep unemployment insurance records for eight years. Dayton would require keeping them half as long.

The Democratic governor also will continue to speed up issuing state permits, Sertich said.

Many permits, such as those the Pollution Control Agency must issue before construction of some facilities, now can take anywhere from nine months to two years. Dayton pledges new rules will allow that to happen in half the time.

Revenue Commissioner Myron Frans said a tax bill making its way through the House is another example of simplification. The bill matches many state tax laws with those from the federal government, a process he said not only simplifies the process but saves Minnesotans money by accepting tax breaks Washington allows.

State Websites also will get easier to navigate, Sertich promised.

Military veteran Michelle Ambrose said that a few years ago she struggled to learn about her benefits when going onto the Veterans Affairs Department site. Recently, she said, she needed to do the same thing and found the site much clearer. She said she received help from a department worker within 30 seconds.

Campers who Sertich invited to share their experiences with the Department of Natural Resources Website said they now can reserve a campsite relatively quickly compared to the old DNR process.

Democratic legislative leaders said they like the Dayton proposals.

“Gov. Dayton has rightly put a focus on ways we can make our government work better for the people of Minnesota with his ‘unsession’ legislative agenda,” House Speaker Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said.

Republicans tended to me more willing to overturn recent laws they do not like.

“While the governor is wasting time worrying about old laws that are largely ignored, Republicans are proposing real solutions to fix the mistakes of 2013," Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie, said. "We plan to use the unsession to stop construction of the extravagant ... Senate office complex and repeal hidden business-to-business taxes that are increasing prices on everyday purchases."

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.