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Minn. Republicans streamline legislative work

Senate Majority Leader-designate Amy Koch of Buffalo addresses the media in this undated photo. Koch joined House speaker-designate Kurt Zellers on Tuesday as they announced a new, streamlined committee structure. Their Republican Party takes control of the House and Senate in January. Tribune photo by Don Davis

ST. PAUL -- Republicans say their action to cut the number of legislative committees illustrates a desire to streamline government.

Few outside of the Capitol may care how many committees are appointed, but House speaker-designate Kurt Zellers of Maple Grove and Senate majority leader-elect Amy Koch of Buffalo used their first official action as a preview for what is to come.

"We have reformed government, starting with ourselves," Zellers said Tuesday, two weeks after Republicans grabbed control of the Minnesota Legislature in the general election.

Minnesotans should see a more effective government, Zellers added.

Ironically, in a year when lawmakers are talking about adding jobs around the state, Republican leaders' first action will mean fewer jobs in the Legislature. While Zellers and Koch could not say how many jobs will be cut, it appears like it will be in the teens. They estimated that the committee changes, as well as other actions, will save $800,000.

The Senate is chopping its committees from 25 to 16, while the House is going with 24 instead of the previous 38.

"It means there is one-stop shopping," Zellers said, because many bills no longer will pass through multiple committees which often required witnesses to make several trips to the Capitol.

Incoming House and Senate leaders worked together so that the committees were coordinated between chambers.

Standing next to a jumbled chart showing how the current committee structure works, Zellers called it spaghetti. The new committee chart shows a smoother process for bills.

"In the end, what you will see is a streamlined Senate," Sen. Geoff Michel of Edina said.

Koch said the new system should allow committees more time to study issues.

Incoming DFL House leader Paul Thissen of Minneapolis both praised and questioned the new committee structure.

"A streamlined committee structure makes sense and both parties have been working on it," Thissen said. "The real question is, 'To what end?' The real test of the Republicans will be how they use their committees."

The Republican leaders said they would consider merging some House and Senate departments that do similar tasks and Zellers said he would consider cutting back on the state-funded public television broadcast of legislative meetings.

Today, GOP leaders will fly around the state to announce their committee chairmen.

Don Davis reports for Forum Communications Co

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.