MN Election Reforms, Emergency Powers and Free the Growler

Nash-Hertaus.jpgRep. Jim Nash (R, Waconia) and Rep. Jerry Hertaus (R, Greenfield) provided their unique perspectives of being Republican legislators in the DFL-controlled Minnesota House during a 90-minute Pints & Pent-up forum on April 14.

Rep. Nash is the Assistant Minority Leader in the House. He is also the chief author of the “Free the Growler” bill. Rep. Hertaus is the Republican lead on the Property Tax Division Committee and has authored various election reform measures.

The two representatives joined the forum after a long day remotely attending a House Ways and Means Committee meeting. The free online networking event started with Reps. Nash and Hertaus making a few remarks.

Jim Nash led off by noting that there are so many weird and bad things going on in St Paul that Republicans feel like they are fighting things off more than they are actually advancing the ball.

Jerry Hertaus mentioned that his election reform bill tried to
• return early voting to 10 days before election day,
• limit absentee ballots to a few excuses, including those serving in the military, working out of state, and having some medical incapacity,
• eliminate opportunities for ballot harvesting

He tried to attract bi-partisan support by adding the carrot of restoring the rights of convicted felons to vote on release from jail rather than after they have completed probation. It would take away the chance that poll workers might illegally allow a formerly incarcerated individual to vote. If you are in prison, you cannot vote. If you are out of prison, you can vote. Yet his bill did not get a hearing in the committee.

Soon after Governor Walz’ declared his peacetime emergency in March 2020, Rep. Hertaus saw the fundamental flaws with Minnesota’s “extension of powers” statute.  It was written to address emergencies in which you really needed a rapid response.  It was needed earlier in the state’s history to quell labor riots and to protect property from looting after severe storms.  It enables the Governor to call a peacetime emergency that can last for five days.  Minnesota’s constitutional officers can extend the emergency for an additional 25 days. After that, it can only be extended if the legislature is in session.  The legislature can revoke the extension, but it takes a vote of both chambers to do so.  In the current emergency, the DFL majority in the House has aligned itself with the political pursuits of the governor and voted to defeat every attempt to end the emergency powers of the governor right up to the present.

The original argument was made that we needed two weeks to prepare for the pandemic because we were told that there would be 850,000 hospitalizations and 74,000 deaths by May 2020.  As time went on, it became clear that the models and the experts were severely wrong, and the course of this pandemic was taking a different course.

It has been clear across the nation that executive powers have been abused by many governors, including Republican governors.  There are also examples around the country where legislatures are working in a bipartisan basis to rein in their governors.  Rep. Hertaus authored a bill in April or May of 2020 to require an affirmative vote of both chambers to extend an emergency past 30 days. He has tinkered with and reintroduced the bill several times, to no avail.  Jerry stated that the continued lockdown has hurt much more than it has helped.  There has been no emergency in the past many months with which the legislature could not have been involved with regard to policy. Rep Hertaus regrets that House Republicans have been powerless to remedy this balance of power issue. 

On the Free the Growler Bill, Rep. Nash says that it is really all about freedom more than it’s about beer.  He noted that after a brewery in Minnesota makes 20,00 barrels of beer, they can no longer sell growlers to you because of some archaic law that someone dreamed up.  There are five breweries in the United States that cannot sell growlers or like-size vessel.  All are in Minnesota:  Surly, Summit, Castle Danger, Lift Bridge, and Schell’s.  There are others that are right on the edge. 

The real point is that we need to promote innovation.  We need to enable people who want to buy something to be able to buy it from someone who wants to sell it.  The principal opponents of this are the teamsters, the Minnesota Licensed Beverage Association, some of the municipal liquor stores, and some of the retailers.  Nash said that the point is that if we allow brewers to make more beer, teamsters are going to drive that from place to place, wholesalers are going to sell it to more retail stores, and more retail stores are going to have that beer to sell.  If one wants to learn more about his bill, there are about eight videos about it on his website.

Jerry Hertaus pointed out that he also authored a bill to allow brewers in Minnesota to sell canned beer in six-packs.

These comments are the summary of the opening remarks.  The forum lasted for a full 90 minutes. Quite a bit more ground was covered in a very interesting question-and-answer period.  The answers provided by Rep. Nash and Hertaus will be detailed in a separate article.