ST. PAUL -- In a decision with timely implications, the Minnesota Supreme Court on Friday struck down part of a wage-protection law because it was lumped in an unrelated tax bill.
The court rejected a 1997 law that made major school construction projects subject to the prevailing wage act, which requires wages to be roughly equal to what union employees in an area would receive for the work. The 6-1 ruling affirms one handed down earlier by the Court of Appeals.
The opinion serves somewhat as warning to the 2000 Legislature, which was putting together a catch-all bill that couples policy and spending.
Under the state Constitution, the Legislature isn't supposed to combine bills if they have no real relationship in subject matter. The single-subject clause is meant to prevent a practice known as log-rolling.
''The purpose of preventing log-rolling is to preclude unrelated subjects from appearing in a popular bill, not to eliminate unpopular provisions in a bill that genuinely encompasses one general subject,'' Justice Edward Stringer wrote for the majority.
Both House and Senate versions of a current spending bill contain several items that might be vulnerable to a similar challenge, including provisions that require women seeking abortions to get more information before the procedure.
''It's very likely that there would be a lawsuit from the competing (abortion) interests,'' said Assistant Senate Majority Leader Ember Reichgott Junge. ''There's no reason we should try to create a lawsuit.''
Junge said the opinion should prompt lawmakers to strip from the finance bill the abortion language and other policy provisions, including one that would move the Department of Agriculture from St. Paul to an undesignated site in outstate Minnesota.
''The caution that the court provides us is one we should take seriously,'' said Junge, DFL-New Hope.
House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon, agreed that lawmakers should change course on the catch-all bill because of the ruling.
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