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Hours after a frantic finish, the Minnesota Legislature shuts down

MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
In announcing what was termed a hiatus, legislative leaders insisted that they were still working and still open to constituents. But it will be mostly by phone, by email and by text.

Just hours after it recessed until April 14 or whenever, the Minnesota State Legislature was closed up tight Tuesday.

Had the session not abruptly ended due to COVID-19, the day would have been packed with committee meetings and the rotunda and halls filled with citizen-lobbyists as well as the compensated kind. Instead, it was mostly empty.

In announcing what was termed a hiatus, legislative leaders insisted that they were still working and still open to constituents. But it will be mostly by phone, by email and by text. In-person meetings are by appointment only.

The doors to the chambers of the Minnesota Senate were closed.
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
The doors to the chambers of the Minnesota Senate were closed.
The resolution adopted in the early morning Tuesday said the Legislature would reconvene April 14, the day it normally would have returned from its Easter/Passover break. What is different this year is that the break is almost four weeks instead of one.

The Legislature will be on-call, meaning House and Senate leaders can agree to call back members if something comes up that needs passage. 

And as became apparent Tuesday morning, what was previously deemed an adequate appropriation for state and local health departments just one week ago has become inadequate. The $21 million infusion signed March 10 has been followed up by a $50 million appropriation Tuesday.

The chambers of the Minnesota Supreme Court were closed.
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
The chambers of the Minnesota Supreme Court were closed.
That same bill created a health care grant fund of $150 million: money that can be tapped by hospitals, clinics, long-term care centers, pharmacies and ambulance services to pay for expenditures such as the expansion of hospital space or the purchase of ventilators and protective gear. It can also go for staff overtime and training, though institutions that receive money must care for the uninsured without charge and must charge in-network fees even to out-of-network insureds.

The bill passed unanimously. Gov. Tim Walz signed it in private Tuesday afternoon, forgoing the signing ceremony that would be typical for a bill of this magnitude.

Monday evening, Walz’s powers under his declaration of emergency were extended by a little-known body called the executive council, made up of Walz and the other four statewide elected officials.

Under state law, the council must approve the declaration within five days. Once done — Monday’s vote was unanimous — Walz’s powers extend for another 30 days, subject to being rescinded by the Legislature. The council also approved the five executive orders Walz has signed, including the closure of schools and public gathering places such as bars and restaurants.

Tuesday’s calendar was rife with cancelations and few legislators were present.
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
Tuesday’s calendar was rife with cancelations and few legislators were present.
Lawmakers might work one-on-one on issues that remain unresolved, though no formal hearings are scheduled. Tuesday’s calendar was rife with cancellations and few legislators were present. Members also are realizing that many of the issues that had dominated the first month of the 2020 session will not be taken up by either house when they return. Leaders have limited the agenda to COVID-19 bills; “mission-critical” measures such as the bonding bill and supplemental budget; and bills with broad agreement. Whether the latter includes the emergency insulin measure that passed the Senate unanimously last week is undetermined.

That means issues such as gun safety, though the gun safety organization Minnesota Moms Demand Action is still working, changing an in-person lobby day set for Wednesday to a virtual action day featuring phone calls and emails to legislators and a Twitter gathering among activists.

The visitors office was open but tours have been called off for now. The state History Center is closed until March 30, as are all Minnesota Historical Society sites across the state. On Tuesday, the sole tourists at the Capitol were a mother and her young son, who mostly had the place to themselves.

The halls of the Senate Office Building were empty.
MinnPost photo by Peter Callaghan
The halls of the Minnesota Senate Building were empty.

Comments (8)

  1. Submitted by Bob Barnes on 03/17/2020 - 09:35 pm.

    Peter or anyone else.. where in MN law does it say the governor has the authority to close private businesses? I’ve read thru section 12 and the 2002 emergency health powers act and there is nothing that says the Governor can order the closure of any private business. He can control traffic on the public roads, he can have the schools closed (they are govt entities) and he can stop gatherings in public places (govt buildings, govt parks etc) but nothing at all saying he has any such authority over a private business.

    All I can find is this: “12.32 GOVERNOR’S ORDERS AND RULES, EFFECT.
    Orders and rules promulgated by the governor under authority of section 12.21, subdivision 3, clause (1), when approved by the Executive Council and filed in the Office of the Secretary of State, have, during a national security emergency, peacetime emergency, or energy supply emergency, the full force and effect of law” But that appears to only apply to orders and rules he can make based on the limited authority given to him by section 12 (ie govt employees, govt facilities, public roads etc).

    I’m not a lawyer but I’d say it looks like private business owners have a good case to have this order struck down by the courts unless I’ve missed something.

    • Submitted by Rory Kramer on 03/17/2020 - 10:44 pm.

      This is an unprecedented public health crisis/emergency. To you this might be nothing but try telling that to those that have become infected or died because of it. There are so many unknowns about Corvid-19 as far as incubation time-anywhere from 2 days to 2 weeks-and other details associated with it.

      • Submitted by Richard Owens on 03/18/2020 - 11:21 am.

        MPR reported this morning that upwards of 35% of Republicans still do not think we are in a pandemic. They are still blaming “the Press”, and China, and now seem to think they have the right to do as they please in public.
        Even Trump has finally been scared straight.

        His followers need an update, whether they are ready for it or not.

        These are not open-minded people.

        • Submitted by Thom Roethke on 03/18/2020 - 01:58 pm.

          Blaming China is completely legitimate. This situation is, essentially, that country’s fault. But that doesn’t make the pandemic any less real.

  2. Submitted by Ray Schoch on 03/18/2020 - 08:16 am.

    I, too, am not a lawyer, but offhand (while we wait for a MinnPost reader who’s a lawyer to weigh in), I’d say that Mr. Trump’s declaration of a national emergency probably gives rather broad powers to the federal government along these lines, and – by implication – similar powers to state governors, some of whom had already taken action similar to Walz’s prior to his “close orders.”

    In any case, Mr. Barnes is free to file his own lawsuit against the Governor for overstepping his constitutional authority. I think he will find few sympathetic judges willing to issue an injunction, and even fewer law enforcement officials and officers willing to carry out such an injunction in order to keep businesses open.

    BIte the bullet, Bob.

  3. Submitted by Robert Gauthier on 03/18/2020 - 11:41 am.

    And. who is he going to file it with, they have closed the courts temporarily. And in a crisis, this is just what we need, another lawsuit. Mr. Barnes can walk around and not quarantine and hopefully nature will take its course.

  4. Submitted by Pedro San Pablo on 03/19/2020 - 07:37 pm.

    Live free or die?

  5. Submitted by Carin Peterson on 03/22/2020 - 07:07 pm.

    Are they yet talking of relaxing or dumping the Medicare rules about MONTHLY face-to-face appointments with patients?
    Many different conditions require this.

    For me- it requires 3 buses (one city, one express, one suburban connector) to get my pain meds refilled.
    Even tho I am never off in my pill count, am not a pill shopper/ seeker, never had issues with their never ending rules (drug test 2x/year – sigh).

    Will they allow Medicare to finally pay for video appts now?
    Safety first, right?

    Do you know?
    Thank you

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