by Jim Boyle
Sherburne County Commissioners expressed disappointment at their May 16 meeting over one Gov. Mark Dayton’s vetoes.
It wasn’t one of his well-publicized vetoes. It was over a bill authored by local lawmaker Rep. Nick Zerwas, R-Elk River, that would have allowed the Sherburne County Law Library to provide the funds needed to furnish the law library as part of a expansion and remodeling project at the county’s government center.
Senate File 1113, a bill that would have allowed county law libraries to transfer money collected through user fees to counties to help finance court-related construction, was vetoed on May 5.
The bill, if it made it off the governor’s desk alive, would have allowed the county to furnish the law library.
“Without this legislation, that will not be possible,” County Board Member Felix Schmiesing said.
In his veto, Dayton noted county law librarians elsewhere have raised concerns that the legislation too broadly applies.
Zerwas says he thinks the veto is aimed at punishing him personally for championing increased penalties against protesters.
“I can’t believe the governor was petty enough to veto this bill,” Zerwas said in a May 8 interview with Minnesota Lawyer, an independent newspaper dedicated to providing court opinions, verdicts, settlements, appellate decisions, and legal news to enhance the practice of law. “I think the governor can’t veto one of my bills, so he is going to veto a different one.”
The controversial protester penalties were included in the public safety-judiciary omnibus spending bill.
The governor’s office rejects the lawmaker’s accusation.
“This is totally absurd,” Sam Fettig, Dayton’s press secretary, told Minnesota Lawyer. “The governor does not operate that way.”
Zerwas said that the law as he wrote it up would require a library to retain five years of operating reserves even after the funds transfer. The transaction would have to be approved both by a law library’s board and county commissioners, he said.
On March 20, the measure passed 64-0 in the Senate, where it was authored by Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake. It received no debate in the chamber.
There was vocal opposition when taken up by the House on May 1, after law librarians began speaking out.
One lawmaker offered an amendment to limit the bill to Sherburne County. Zerwas told House members he wanted to retain the statewide language to avoid patchwork legislation.
“What the bill does is allows all counties and county libraries to be treated equally,” he said. “I think that is very important.”
The amendment to limit the bill to Sherburne County failed 64-68. The overall bill then passed 69-62.
Dayton said in his veto letter that he would consider signing “more narrowly crafted” legislation. Zerwas said he had hoped to resubmit it as a more tailored bill in time to have it pass this session.
Initial efforts to do that have failed so far.