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April 14, 2007

Experience of Finding a Public Document

For an average citizen, I think finding an agenda packet from the Minnesota Legislature is pretty difficult. I tried to find the agenda packet for The Dog and Cat Breeders Act because I’m writing about that in my article. I started by calling the Public Information Office. That number was easy to find on the Minnesota Legislature website. However, then I got transferred or was given the numbers for calling other offices. I ended up talking to someone from the House Index and the Senate Committee. The woman from the House Index told me there was no public information on that bill, but she told me how I can go to the House website, and search by topics to find bills. She even did it for me and found all the bills listed under the Animals and Pets topic, but there was either no public information or the bill or it wasn’t relevant to my article. The man from the Senate Committee told me that there was no public information on that bill, but he was very helpful in telling me how I could go about finding public information on a bill. He walked me through the steps while I followed along on my computer. He told me to go to www.senate.mn, then Orders of Business, then the Fifth Order of Business. He said that if there was any public information it would be listed here, and if there wasn’t anything available I would then call the committee, go to the library at the Capitol and listen to the tape, or talk to the author of the bill. I actually did already ask the author of the bill when I interviewed him earlier this week, but he referred me to the senate committee I was just talking to! I searched for any other bills relating to my article by using this process and again there was no information available or nothing related to my article. Both these people were helpful in telling me all of this information and how the process works, but having to be transferred numerous times, going to the library, or tracking down the author of the bill would be way too time-consuming and complicated for the average citizen.

Since there weren’t any agenda packets on The Dog and Cat Breeders Act or anything relating to dogs or animal welfare in the Legislature, I tried to get the agenda packet for a recent public meeting in Morrison County that approved a mega-kennel. This experience was much easier. First, I went to the Morrison County government website, and then to the County Commissioners site. On that page the written minutes and video for the public meetings were listed, and I was able to download them. In order to find out how one could get the agenda packet, I called the number that was listed to call for more information and she transferred me to the county administrator. He said the agenda packet was a foot thick and would cost $150 to photocopy, but anyone can come in and make the photocopies without an appointment. He said one woman did just come in and made the photocopies. However, he offered to email me the “findings of fact? that have the legal basis for the decisions, the special conditions made for the mega-kennel, and the exhibits (items/ documents that were looked at) that were used during the meeting. He was really nice and helpful and emailed me the Findings of Fact immediately. Therefore, I think it would be really easy for an average citizen to find the public information because the minutes were readily available on the website, I only got transferred once, and he was very helpful in providing me the findings of fact and telling me all you have to do is go in to the office anytime during their hours to photocopy the documents for 25 cents a page.