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House panel votes along party lines rejecting proposed cap on governor’s emergency powers

House Photography file photo

For more than a year, and again Wednesday, Gov. Tim Walz extended the state’s peacetime emergency for another 30 days to quickly help the state respond to COVID-19.

Each time he did after the regular legislative session ended in May 2020, lawmakers returned to St. Paul for an opportunity to weigh in on that decision. Most of those seven special sessions saw the Republican-controlled Senate vote to end the emergency powers and provide the Legislature more of a say, but motions to suspend the rules so such a resolution could be brought up in DFL-controlled House were always unsuccessful. It also happened Wednesday.

An idea from Rep. Steve Green (R-Fosston) fared no better about 30 minutes later when the House Rules and Legislative Administration Committee, via a 10-6 party-line vote, rejected HF101.

The bill would ask voters in the 2022 election if the state’s constitution should be amended to cap the peacetime emergency period at seven days unless the House and Senate vote to allow a 30-day emergency declaration.

Supporters — the bill has 11 Republican co-sponsors and zero DFL — say legislators should have a role in this or whether the governor is going to continue making those decisions.

“The question is no longer how much longer will the governor retain his power, but at what point will the Legislature accept the responsibility granted to them by the voters?” Green said. “… While the framers of the constitution undoubtedly had good intent providing the governor latitude to issue urgent orders during times of an emergency, complete and total abuse of Gov. Walz’s power that he’s exhibited by invoking these mandates for a full calendar year has got to be checked.”

No DFLers spoke on the bill; however, opponents previously said the status quo allows decisions to be made on short-notice, and going through the legislative process could be time detrimental.

[MORE: History of the governor’s emergency powers]

A companion, SF121, sponsored by Sen. Paul Utke (R-Park Rapids), awaits action by the Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee.

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