ST. PAUL — The governor's extensive emergency powers and other top legislative priorities will be up for debate Friday, Sept. 11, as lawmakers return to the Capitol for another special legislative session.
Gov. Tim Walz on Wednesday, Sept. 9, announced he would ask lawmakers to return to take up his proposal to extend the state's peacetime emergency another 30 days to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. It's the fourth special session this year to take up the issue.
“While Minnesota has taken life-saving action, the threat of COVID-19 remains,” Walz said in a news release. “It’s imperative that we have the tools necessary to respond to this rapidly evolving virus quickly and decisively in order to safeguard the health and well being of each and every Minnesotan.”
The results are expected to repeat the pattern the Legislature has created so far. Senate Republicans who hold a majority there will vote to end the emergency while Democrats who control the House of Representatives will vote to let it continue.
Both chambers would have to vote against the extension to block it.
Before lawmakers make the trip back to the Capitol, here's what you need to know about the state's peacetime emergency and how legislators could act on Friday.
What has the governor used the emergency to do?
Since declaring the emergency in March, Walz has put a freeze on evictions, set up COVID-19 testing partnerships between the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic that boosted the state's testing capacity, provided benefits to unemployed Minnesotans and deployed the Minnesota National Guard to stockpile scarce personal protective equipment.
The governor also temporarily closed down schools, businesses and houses of worship and set in place a mask mandate. While many schools, restaurants, bars, churches and other businesses have been allowed to reopen, they now face additional constraints to occupancy and COVID-19 mitigation measures.
The emergency enables the governor with approval from the Executive Council to swiftly approve policy changes without legislative action. Walz has argued that option has helped the state remain nimble in its response to the pandemic but Republican lawmakers say the powers are no longer needed and the decisions should be made in the Legislature.
If lawmakers blocked the extension, dozens of existing executive orders would lapse.
Do other states have peacetime emergencies?
Almost all states and the federal government have similar peacetime emergencies in place to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
What else can lawmakers do while they're back?
Republican leaders in the Senate have brought forth a handful of Walz-appointed commissioners to size up their job performance. And Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, has left open the option of bringing them up for confirmation or termination Friday in the Senate.
Legislative leaders and the governor have also said they remain in discussions about a jobs and projects bill, known at the Capitol as the bonding bill, but they won't be able to pass one Friday. The state last month issued bond sales and must not affect finances during a so-called "quiet period."
Despite that, DFL leaders in the House and Republican leaders in the Senate have said they remain committed to passing a bonding bill later this month. They could return for another special session to do that if leaders can agree and the required three-fifths majority in each chamber materializes to support the proposal.
The minority caucuses in each chamber are instrumental in getting to that threshold and have proven tough to please in early conversations. House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, has previously held as a term of passing a bonding bill that Walz drop the peacetime emergency. But Daudt on Thursday told WCCO Radio that he was in discussions with legislative leaders on a bonding bill but had not yet hammered out a deal.
“We’re still a bit far away from coming to agreement on all of those points,” Daudt said.