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Minnesota Legislature

Proposal would have Greater MN bars, restaurants fully open sooner

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Bouncing back from the COVID-19 pandemic may best be served by other than a one-size-fits-all approach.

So says Rep. Julie Sandstede (DFL-Hibbing), who shared a self-termed “pilot program for the reopening of our restaurants” Friday with the House Subcommittee on Legislative Reform.

No action was taken, but Rep. Gene Pelowski Jr. (DFL-Winona), the subcommittee chair, hopes members can soon begin putting together of package of proposals to help state businesses.

“There are places across our state that are seeing very, very low numbers, no new positive rates,” Sandstede said. “Recovery for many of these businesses is not going to be the same either. I do believe with all of my heart it is going to take businesses in Greater Minnesota much longer time to recover than it will in other parts of the state.”

Her plan would, beginning April 1, 2021, exempt bars and restaurants outside the seven-county Twin Cities metropolitan area, Rochester and Duluth — the state’s most densely populated areas — from COVID-19 executive orders “that limit occupancy, require physical distancing or facial coverings, or otherwise direct or control the conduct of persons at bars, restaurants, and other places of public accommodation.”

Employees would be required to wear a face covering and service must end by 11 p.m.

By May 1, the Department of Health would need to report “whether available evidence indicates that the easing of restrictions under this section caused a statistically significant increase in new COVID-19 cases in greater Minnesota.” If evidence does not exist, the face covering and 11 p.m. mandate would expire.

However, if the Health Department determines a bar or restaurant is the source of a spike in COVID-19 cases, the establishment would be subject to the governor’s executive orders in place elsewhere in Minnesota, such as occupancy limits, face coverings and physical distancing.

Sandstede is open to some metrics being built into the plan.

Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul) likes how the proposal would look at stages to see if something works. He also encourages more than just one snapshot in time be taken in the future because coronavirus effects can change.

“I like this plan, I’d like it to be even more expansive,” said Rep. Marion O'Neill (R-Maple Lake). “… We need to turn the corner; we need to open up businesses.”

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