Republicans who newly control the Legislature appear to be adopting a fresh strategy for putting a GOP stamp on high-profile Minnesota policies: Offering constitutional amendments that DFL Gov. Mark Dayton can't stop.
On Tuesday it was same-sex marriage. On Wednesday, Republicans hauled out a proposal to put voter identification on the 2012 ballot.
Republican activists -- and the lawmakers they sent to St. Paul -- heartily support both moves. They know the ballot measures could drive Republicans to the polls in 2012, when the GOP legislative majority will be up for grabs and the presidency will top the ticket. "The voters very strongly want this," Rep. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, said of the voter identification measure she proposed on Wednesday.
DFLers called the moves a distraction from the real work of the session -- balancing a state budget with a $5 billion hole.
Republicans say they are just trying to do what voters sent them to do. Kiffmeyer had already sponsored a bill requiring voters to show certain photo identification at the polls. It appeared certain to pass when it comes up for a vote in the Senate Thursday, despite having no support from Democrats. Dayton, like previous governors, has insisted any election measures be bipartisan to win his signature.
The call for an amendment is designed to thwart a possible veto by Dayton, who has repeatedly called the measure "a solution in search of a problem."
Unlike legislation, constitutional amendments do not have to be signed by the governor and cannot be vetoed. If the GOP-led House and Senate pass them, both amendment questions will appear on the 2012 ballot.
The amendment Kiffmeyer introduced in the House has strong legislative support -- 33 co-sponsors that include House Speaker Kurt Zellers, R-Maple Grove, and Majority Leader Matt Dean, R-Dellwood.
Supporters say requiring identification is needed to head off voter fraud, which critics say is virtually nonexistent in Minnesota. Opponents say the requirement is designed to suppress turnout by elderly people, young people and minorities, who are least likely to have identification showing their current address and often vote for DFLers.
The constitutional amendment's appearance comes one day after a group of Republican Senators proposed a constitutional measure to ban same-sex marriage.
That move, which Dayton has clearly opposed, is a nearly perennial push at the Capitol. In the past, DFL majorities stopped its progress.
Now that Republicans are in charge, the same-sex amendment has been fast tracked. Introduced on Tuesday, it will be heard in committee on Friday and could quickly hurtle toward a floor vote. A voter ID amendment could take a similar path.
If Dayton is fazed by the work-arounds, he isn't showing it. "A constitutional amendment is something that they can propose and pass if they decide to pass it," Dayton said Tuesday.
State law already bans same-sex marriage, but backers say the principle is so important it should be in the state Constitution. Opponents say it is discriminatory and a feint to avoid the real work of the session. "With just a few short weeks left before the budget deadline, Republican leaders are spending their time pushing their divisive social agenda rather than doing the hard work of passing a balanced budget plan," Senate Minority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said of the marriage amendment.
Despite an exchange of letters and weekly breakfasts, Dayton and Republican leaders have made little progress in bridging their budget differences.
Mindful of an adjournment deadline that now is less than a month away, Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, on Wednesday tried to change the House rules. His proposal would have banned any floor votes on constitutional amendments before the budget is balanced.
That move died, but managed to win some Republican supporters. The final vote was 65-64.
Winkler, who opposes both amendments, said there may be more constitutional talk to come.
"Now with 26 days before the end of session, they can't hold back any longer," he said.
Bob von Sternberg • 651-222-0973 Rachel E. Stassen-Berger is a correspondent in the Star Tribune Capitol Bureau.