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Counties ask Legislature for act of MAGIC

ATWATER -- Minnesota counties are hoping the state legislature performs a little magic this year and approves the Minnesota Accountable Government Innovation and Collaboration Act.

The MAGIC Act, as it is called, is being brought forward by the Association of Minnesota Counties.

Kandiyohi County Commissioner Harlan Madsen said the act would increase the flexibility of local governments by redesigning the relationship between the state and counties. It would also focus on outcomes rather than the process.

The act would not mean deregulation but a "de-processing," Madsen said Monday night in Atwater during one of several community meetings he's been holding throughout his district the past week.

During the two-hour session, which at times took on the tenor of a civics lesson, Madsen talked about the way federal, state and county governments interact in terms of budgets and mandates and how that can interfere with the ability of local governments to make cost-effective changes with positive outcomes.

Like most states, Madsen said Minnesota currently operates under the 1872 Dillon rule that says local units of government are only authorized to do what the state law explicitly says it can do.

Madsen said 10 states have implemented the Cooley Doctrine that -- according to a document from the Association of Minnesota Counties -- allows counties to "do anything for the health, safety and general welfare of the public that is not prohibited or prescribed by state law."

The legislation would allow state and county employees to "focus their energy on outcomes rather than processes" by collaborating together, according to the AMC, which Madsen said is still seeking legislative sponsors.

That would be a switch from the Dillon rule that solidifies the philosophy that state government knows best and counties are there to deliver state services.

The legislation wouldn't mean the end of mandates and "maintenance of effort" financial obligations, Madsen said. But it would allow counties to act as "laboratories" to find innovative models of operation.

As an example, Madsen said, the Kandiyohi County Family Services Department developed a one-page list of directions for completing a complicated process to convert clients to medical assistance. The following day the state sent out an 18-page document that did the same thing.

The outcome was the same, said Madsen, but a county employee had found a more efficient method.

Another aspect of the MAGIC Act involves counties obtaining waivers from current state rules and laws in order to implement innovative and efficient service deliver models.

"We have to clearly change how we deliver services," Madsen said, adding that the current method of top-down unfunded mandates is "not sustainable."

Carolyn Lange

A reporter for more than 30 years, Carolyn Lange covers regional news with the West Central Tribune.

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