This week’s Sounding Board, left to right: Asad Zaman, Annette Meeks, Floyd B. Olson, Brian McDaniel, Debra Hilstrom


This week’s topics: The tribunal stirs; Line 3 ruling; stripped of cash


House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park (Photo: Kevin Featherly)

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park (Photo: Kevin Featherly)

Query 1: House Speaker Melissa Hortman told WCCO Radio Thursday that legislative leadership has stepped into the public safety bill negotiations, which got bogged down over police reform. She says the same thing will happen with other special session bills if negotiators get stuck. Does leadership’s intervention make you more or less hopeful that we’ll avoid a government shutdown?

Asad Zaman, political activist, Muslim imam: Neither. It’s the lack of the things being done in public that is bothering me. The public does not know what is happening. And my experience is that shenanigans die in the sunlight and they can thrive without sunlight.

Annette Meeks, CEO, Freedom Foundation: It makes me more hopeful that they are doing everything they can to avoid a government shutdown. It makes me less hopeful that we will have a good process that will produce good legislation. It’s a bad idea, seriously.

Floyd B. Olson, retired former Hennepin County senior attorney: I’m not hopeful that there won’t be a government shutdown. I think it’s very likely that the government will shut down. That’s kind of what politics have become: Not being able to agree on anything. What they really ought to do is bring in some professional negotiators to assist them and try to come to a resolution.

Brian McDaniel, attorney, conservative lobbyist: It makes me more hopeful that we will avoid a shutdown, although it is certainly a practice which should be discouraged in the future. We need to find ways to involve the whole legislature in the decision-making process, as that is the best way to make sure that the voices of the people in their districts are being heard. So “the tribunal” might be being used by necessity, but it is certainly not something that should become standard practice.

Debra Hilstrom, attorney, former DFL House member: During my time in the legislature, the leadership had to step in on a number of occasions when items got bogged down. Usually it results in big items being negotiated at the leadership level and then the details being worked out amongst the committee members and the chairs. So I am hopeful that they’ll be able to get something done.


Court of Appeals Judge Peter Reyes

Court of Appeals Judge Peter Reyes

Query 2: The Court of Appeals has greenlighted the Enbridge Line 3 project, with the majority saying that that PUC’s review properly weighed out the impacts and risks. But a stinging dissent from Judge Peter Reyes disputed that conclusion and challenged whether Minnesota needs the line. Whose opinion is closer to yours? 

Zaman: The stinging criticism. First of all, there is not 60 years’ worth of crude in Canadian tar sands. And secondly, I don’t know that we will be using 60 years of crude. The whole world is in a major flux. I’m not sure that fossil fuels will be around for the 50 or 60 years that this line is supposed to carry them around. The whole world economy is at an inflection point. We need to be having renewable technologies—battery technologies, wind and solar. Building horse buggy-whip factories might have made sense in 1935. But by 1940, it no longer made sense.

Meeks: Oh my goodness, the majority’s. The idea that we have a pipeline that I think is just a hair bit older than me and that it is in good shape and can carry millions of gallons of raw fuel every day, it’s nonsense. Enbridge didn’t decide to build a new pipeline because they wanted to spend millions of dollars. They did it because it is a necessity and we should encourage them to do that. That’s a good thing for our environment.

Olson: The question is, how much oil are we going to need? You know, all the cars are going to become electrical, anyway. And I suspect the internal combustion engine will probably become somewhat obsolete and the need for fossil fuel is going to diminish. So it seems to me that they ought to reexamine whether they really need this and whether they ought to be spending money more on using electricity to power things.

McDaniel: Clearly, the opinion of the majority. Minnesota is blessed to have refineries within our state that provide us with lots of safe, affordable petroleum. And the Line 3 Enbridge line is something that is important for safety and important economically—not to mention the jobs that will be created for union workers.

Hilstrom: I believe that parties are going to appeal this decision to the next level and I think this conversation is nowhere near finished. I think it will both be a decision that will be made through the courts and that you will continue to hear the debate at the legislature.



Query 3: A Rhode Island judge is allowing a strip bar’s lawsuit to proceed against an insurance company for COVID-19-related financial losses, even though its policy precludes losses from the virus. Why? Because the bar’s owner isn’t blaming the virus, but the COVID-19 executive orders that shut the business down. It’s a creative argument. Is it a good one?

Zaman: Probably not. But I suppose that’s what trials are for. From my legal experience, to win at summary judgment a matter has to be so overwhelmingly obvious. When things are not overwhelmingly obvious, that’s why you have a trial to make that clear.

Meeks: There has been a lot of interesting news coming out of Rhode Island. Isn’t that where the giant whale swallowed the guy? He was on his way to Ninevah, I hear! You know, it’s a very creative lawsuit. I wish them well. The executive orders have wreaked a lot of havoc on a lot of businesses in various states and there are going to be a lot of very creative lawsuits when all this starts sorting itself out. It will be interesting to see how this one ends up.

Olson: It probably won’t succeed. When it comes to insurance policies, I think that the juries are much more literalist. And if the policy says that the virus is not a compensable thing, I don’t think you’re going to succeed.

McDaniel: I certainly believe that certain states made decisions on closing businesses hastily, not always adhering to scientific practices. And I believe that many smaller retail establishments—and potentially strip clubs—were negatively affected by those decisions while many big-box retailers were allowed to be open and reaped the benefits of the small-business closures.

Hilstrom: Interesting! I believe that during times of unique challenges, people have to come up with unique ways to address their issues. And in this case the business’ losses are something that are probably very important to it. It clearly has a lawyer that has advised it on trying this method and the judge didn’t dismiss it outright. So clearly, there is a colorable argument here. We all want the economy to get back to normal and we all want people who had significant losses to be able to recover, so that we can have successful businesses in the future. I’ll be watching this one to see what the end result is.[Editor’s note: If you also want to follow along with this intriguing case, it’s Atwells Realty Corp. v. Scottsdale Insurance Company, State of Rhode Island Superior Court.]


Session/Law logo by Kirk Anderson