The Senate Rules Committee has approved a move to support a recently filed legal action contending that Gov. Mark Dayton overstepped his authority in ordering a union election for childcare providers in the state.
The resolution, approved by a 6-1 margin with DFL Sen. Dick Cohen serving as the sole opposition vote among unanimous Republican support, means the Senate will file a court brief in support of a lawsuit that has pitted 11 childcare providers against the Dayton administration in Ramsey County District Court.
In supporting the lawsuit, which the providers filed Monday, the Senate is wading into a battle that over the past week has transformed from a political fight to one that could ultimately be decided by the courts. Republican opposition to allowing childcare providers to vote on unionization has been steadfast for years. But as Dayton was reportedly moving toward a decision, GOP opposition grew as well.
With this Rules Committee’s action on Thursday, that opposition — and the GOP’s contention that Dayton’s order is against the law — was solidified in a much more concrete way, pitting the Senate against Dayton in court for the second time during his tenure as governor. The first occurrence was during the state’s historic government shutdown last summer, in which the Senate was officially a party over whether, or how much, state spending should continue during the shutdown.
“The concern for me, why I support the adoption of the resolution…is I don’t believe this is a lawful order,” Senate Health and Human Services Chairman David Hann said at the hearing Thursday. “Do we say that’s OK?”
Cohen, the lone DFLer present for the hearing while the rest of his party was attending a briefing on the coming revenue forecast, questioned whether the move by Republicans was motivated by legal principle or politics.
“Is this an issue relative to the over usage by the chief executive?” Cohen asked. “Or is there just a dislike of this issue?”
“I have to assume,and I apologize for saying this,” he added, “there must be politics involved in this.”
Republicans for the most part stuck to legal arguments, although Senate Majority Leader and Rules Chair Amy Koch called the order a “bad idea.”
Senate Judiciary Chairman Warren Limmer, meanwhile, said such questions — and the relative infrequency with which the Senate has joined litigation against governors in the past — were beside the point.
“The question is clearly whether the governor in this case exercised his authority from a legal perspective,” Limmer said, adding that it’s a question a court must now decide. “This [resolution] is simply seeking direction from this committee to join that effort.”
Despite the controversy surrounding Dayton’s order, the coming election seems to be continuing as expected, at least for now. Ballots are set to be mailed out next week and returned by Dec. 20. That hasn’t quelled opponents, though. Anti-unionization forces will rally at the Capitol Saturday against the order.