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House subcommittee hears GOP plan to end peacetime emergency restrictions

A shuttered St. Paul restaurant in April 2020. Gov. Walz announced a further loosening of COVID-19 restrictions Friday; a Republican plan heard the same day in a House subcommittee would go further. House Photography file photo

A few hours after Gov. Tim Walz announced his latest executive order to safely reopen the state, including increased capacity for restaurants and indoor entertainment starting Saturday, more loosening of the restrictions is being encouraged.

The House Subcommittee on Legislative Process Reform heard a proposal Friday that supporters say would go further to help Minnesotans hurting because of the COVID-19 pandemic. No action was taken.

A proposal from Rep. Dave Baker (R-Willmar) contains three steps:

  • the day after enactment, bars and restaurants could operate at 75% capacity for indoor and outdoor dining with parties separated by at least 6 feet. Indoor and outdoor events, including weddings, could be held with attendance maxed at 50% of venue capacity, as long as parties from different households are at least 6 feet apart;
  • 30 days after final enactment, bars and restaurants may operate normally; indoor and outdoor events can be held with attendance up to 75% of space capacity; hair salons, movie theaters, pools, gyms and fitness centers may operate at 75% capacity; and
  • all businesses and events may operate normally 60 days after enactment.

“People are desperately trying to get back to work, but we can’t do that until we start opening up, start living here in Minnesota once again,” Baker said.

“We think it’s a balanced concept outlining a phased approach with clear guidepost decision making,” said Liz Rammer, president and CEO of Hospitality Minnesota. “Hospitality businesses must be able to plan for changes in advance of their operations.”

Criticism was directed at Walz for enacting his latest executive order with no advance warning to the hospitality industry.

House Subcommittee on Legislative Process Reform 02/12/21

Ken Jarcha, president of the Greater Minneapolis Hotel Association, said the industry is “at the mercy of the governor to make an announcement at his whim,” which leads to not only scrambling to quickly meet the changes, but the uncertainty has led to group bookings throughout 2021 being cancelled.

“Group contacts are telling us they don’t feel confident in booking in Minnesota because we don’t have a next-phase plan as so many other states do,” he said.

Assistant Health Commissioner Dan Huff said Minnesota officials have reviewed other state’s plans. “We found that almost all the states that had a set plan … they throughout the pandemic early on just discarded those plans.”

He added that if officials only looked at public health risk scores, Minnesota’s economy would have been “much more closed” than if a more flexible and balanced approach was taken, like Walz has.

Rep. Rena Moran (DFL-St. Paul) said it’s hard to plan for the future when the pandemic is controlling what happens, not the other way around.

Also addressed was a proposal from House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) that “the Legislature, either through the (Legislative Coordinating Commission), if we’re not in session, or by vote of both bodies of the Legislature would have to vote to continue one of the executive orders.”

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