In 2013, the Minnesota Supreme Court issued its opinion in the Helmberger v. Johnson Controls case, which limited the application of the Data Practices Act (DPA) to private entities performing outsourced government work under contract. In its decision, the court held that private vendors whose contracts did not contain express “notice” language were exempt from the provisions the DPA. The decision reversed the previous, long-lived understanding that all Minnesota government contractors were, in fact, covered by that law.
“Helmberger” bill introduced
At the start of the current legislative session, the Minnesota Newspaper Association brought forward a bill that would remedy the Helmberger decision by specifying that all contractors performing government functions would be covered by the DPA – whether or not their contracts contained a specific notice requirement.
The bill clarifies section 13.05, Subd. 11 of the DPA, which provides the public with a valuable tool to oversee the outsourcing of government work to private entities. By providing public access to contractor data, this section of the DPA ensures that there is transparency in how tax dollars are spent, and how government functions are performed.
The “Helmberger” bill is important to government transparency, and MNCOGI board members have testified in favor of it at several legislative committee hearings. Most recently, at a joint Civil Law- HHS hearing, MNCOGI testified that the important oversight purpose of the bill should not be obscured by the addition of amendments, so that legislators could vote solely on the bill’s underlying premise.
Senate adds amendment to exempt health care industry
While in the Senate, the “Helmberger” bill had several sections added, including a section that granted a one-year exemption from the full reach of the DPA to health plans who contract for government work, as well as related providers and vendors.
MNCOGI opposes industry-wide exemptions from DPA
While this section “sunsets” after one year, MNCOGI believes that specific industries should not be granted preferential treatment in how the DPA applies to them – even for a short period of time. Additionally, MNCOGI is concerned that once an exemption has been established in law, there may be a tendency to convert what was once a temporary statutory provision into a permanent feature of the DPA.
The House of Representatives is now set to vote on the House version of the bill on May 15. As of this writing, several amendments have been offered to the initial bill, including amendments that mirror the final Senate version (complete with its amended language).
MNCOGI is continuing to urge legislators to oppose the addition of broad, industry-wide exemptions to the bill, so that its oversight purpose does not become diluted.