Republican legislative leaders are criticizing DFL Gov. Mark Dayton for his use of executive orders to shape state policy.
They claim Dayton is trying to bypass the legislative process on controversial issues. Republicans will hold a state Senate Committee meeting later this week to discuss Dayton's orders.
The governor made big waves earlier this month when he issued an executive order for a union vote among state-subsidized in-home child-care providers. Just two weeks later, he issued another order to establish a task force to prevent bullying in schools.
"We're all opposed to it, and we all want to find the most effective ways to deal with it when it does occur," Dayton said.
Dayton has been in office for 11 months, and has issued more than 30 executive orders. That's twice the number GOP Gov. Tim Pawlenty issued during his first year in office. Republican Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch is concerned by the trend. Koch said Dayton has shown "an aggressive nature" when it comes to executive orders, and it is raising questions about the separation of powers in state government.
"We always want to be cautious that the legislative process is what needs to be used to make law," Koch said. "Not executive order. That's intended for tweaking of things. Legislation is what's needed to change law."
Koch and other members of the Senate Rules Committee will meet Thursday morning to discuss the union election, including a possible lawsuit to try to stop next month's scheduled vote. But Koch said the panel will also look at the broader issue of executive orders, and whether Dayton is using them to change state policy without hearings or votes.
"That's what the Legislature is about. It's about the people coming in and being able to testify. Not one person making a decision," Koch said. "It's about the people making a decision, and we want to make sure that's protected."
House Republicans have similar concerns about Dayton's use of executive orders. House Majority Leader Matt Dean said the governor is overreaching in many of his orders and trying to impose his will on the state.
"This governor, previous governors and future governors have a lot of authority and power in the state of Minnesota, and we understand this," Dean said. "But this clearly is not just trying to skate around the Legislature if you will, but also trying to usurp a certain political point of view and too much executive authority."
Child care unionization isn't the only hot-button issue Dayton addressed via executive order. He also authorized the state's early participation in an expanded federal Medical Assistance program and directed state agencies to speed up the process for environmental permits.
House DFL Minority Leader Paul Thissen thinks Dayton is using executive orders to move the state forward.
"All governors issue executive orders, and I think from that perspective — I think he's shown the kind leadership we actually need right now," Thissen said. "Particularly with a Republican Legislature that has proven itself to be incredibly uncompromising."
Dayton insists he's on solid legal ground. He said he's been assured by his lawyers that every action he's taken by executive order is within his constitutional authority, especially in a state where the executive branch is designated as full-time and the legislative branch is part-time.
"In this case, if somebody has a question about my legal right to do this, there's the district court down the street," Dayton said. "They seem to be spending enough time there that they ought to know where it is. And we'll deal with that accordingly."
It remains unclear whether Senate or House Republicans will go to court over Dayton's executive order on the child-care unionization, and now they might not have to. A group of in-home providers already filed a lawsuit this week to try to nullify the order and stop next month's scheduled vote.