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House subcommittee continues debate over legislative response to Walz's emergency powers

House Photography file photo

A potential legislative response to Gov. Tim Walz’s emergency power could be getting closer.

The House Subcommittee on Legislative Reform continued its work on the issue by hearing one new and one updated proposal Tuesday.

“My intent was to engage the Legislature … my other intent was hopefully to find things that work,” said Rep. Gene Pelowski Jr. (DFL-Winona), the subcommittee chair. “The only way to do that was to do it in a bipartisan way to see what was offered in committee with public testimony and we have done that. We have a number of options available to us.”

Pelowski indicated a meshing of ideas could begin when the subcommittee meets Friday.

“We are capable of doing this,” he said.

House Subcommittee on Legislative Process Reform 02/16/21

Put forth by Rep. Julie Sandstede (DFL-Hibbing) is draft language that would, in part, require the governor, when a peacetime emergency extends beyond 30 days, to provide rationale for each rule in effect. Executive orders issued during a peacetime emergency lasting more than 30 days would expire on the 37th day of the peacetime emergency unless ratified by the House and Senate.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) said this would ensure the House and Senate have a voice. “It forces the governor to have to communicate with the Legislature,” he said.

“By having each of us go on the record to being for or against any executive order will hold us accountable and will do a better job letting our constituents know where we stand,” said Rep. Dan Wolgamott (DFL-St. Cloud).

However, Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) believes the idea has no chance in a partisan environment.

“The idea that (DFL leadership) is going to allow this to come up for a vote in any way for any bill that in some way is going to limit the governor’s authority, or be seen as a repudiation of the decisions he’s made, is just not gonna happen,” he said.

Back from last Friday’s hearing is a proposal from Rep. Dave Baker (R-Willmar) that 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.

A provision that four of five people between the governor and the four legislative caucuses can delay the timeline has also been incorporated.

Since first discussed Friday, Baker said he’s working to update the proposal so benchmarks, including vaccination and seven-day positive testing rates, could be incorporated to when the provisions could take effect. They are to be included when the idea is introduced as a bill Thursday.

The main thing, Baker said, is Walz and legislators working together.

“If one or two metrics trigger … my intent is to engage the governor and the four caucus leaders to immediately get together, to talk about what is the plan. Do we need to pause? Is everything OK? Is it an aberration?”

“If the alarm bells are ringing we kind of know there’s steps taken right then and there before things get out of control, so that’d be one piece I would be looking for,” said Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul).

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