Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton has a chance to put an early stamp on state government before the Legislature passes a single bill - by weighing in on a pile of executive orders left over from his predecessor, Republican Tim Pawlenty.
One of Dayton's first acts after taking office was to rescind a Pawlenty directive limiting Minnesota's participation in the federal health care law.
Dozens of other executive orders issued by Pawlenty, a likely presidential candidate, remain in effect through March - unless Dayton undoes them or opts to keep them in effect longer. One order in effect since early 2008 deepened the state's involvement in enforcing federal immigration laws. Another removed officials' discretion to release sex offenders from a locked treatment program.
Dayton's deputy chief of staff Andrea Mokros said the administration is reviewing the existing executive orders. She didn't give a timetable for decisions. The orders stay in effect for 90 days after the governor who issued them leaves office - unless superseded by law or another executive order.
Pawlenty made headlines three years ago when he got Minnesota more involved in enforcing federal immigration laws through two executive orders, one of them expanding state law enforcement involvement with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the other requiring state agencies and contractors to use an electronic system to verify the immigration status of new hires.
"If you look at my record in Minnesota, I've done a number of things to help the effort to take a more aggressive enforcement posture as it relates to illegal immigration," Pawlenty told a national audience in Washington on Thursday.
State Sen. Patricia Torres Ray dismissed Pawlenty's immigration directives as "unfair" and "politically driven."
But the Minneapolis Democrat isn't asking Dayton to touch those executive orders - she would rather see them die quietly. Torres Ray said immigrant communities have more to gain by helping Dayton build support for a high-end income tax increase to protect schools and health care from budget cuts as the state wrestles with a $6.2 billion deficit.
"I would like to see Gov. Dayton be doing something much more practical than using executive orders to do something symbolic," she said.
There is support for lifting the immigration orders early. Sen. John Harrington, St. Paul's former police chief, said the law enforcement order had a "very chilling" effect in greater Minnesota, even though Minneapolis and St. Paul police aren't involved. He would like to see Dayton scrap the order soon.
"From a police perspective and a public safety perspective it is the wrong direction, and most major cities have recognized that it's the wrong direction," said Harrington, a first-term Democrat.
Javier Morillo, president of the Service Employees International Union Local 26 in Minneapolis, said it doesn't matter if Pawlenty's immigration orders run out this month or in March - as long as long as they expire.
"I think they should go away. The sooner the better," he said. "I'm not personally nor is our organization lobbying for one way or another."
Dayton also faces pressure to address a 2003 executive order prohibiting state agencies from discharging or releasing sex offenders committed to courts to treatment, unless required by law or ordered by a court.
Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers, who helped pass a crackdown on sex offenders in 2005, said he hopes Dayton will extend the order.
"We don't want to send any kind of message whatsoever that they are going to leave prison or the secured facility in any way, shape or form," said Zellers, R-Maple Grove. "I would recommend to the governor to continue the policy."
State law allows governors to issue executive orders for everything from weather emergencies to creating state agencies. The authority gives them latitude to put a limited personal imprint on state government without involving the Legislature. Couched in flowery terms such as "whereas" and "hereby," the orders are used to direct the National Guard to respond to flooding, adjust seasonal weight restrictions for trucks on state roads and establish commissions and councils.
Recent Minnesota governors, including Pawlenty, have extended a selected batch of executive orders issued by their predecessors.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)