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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Shane Mekeland (R)

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COVID-19 outbreak magnifies the good, reveals shortcomings

Thursday, May 14, 2020

By Rep. Shane Mekeland

The COVID-19 outbreak has revealed many things about our state. It has shown Minnesotans are eager to help others during tough times. It also has highlighted our willingness to sacrifice in the name of safety. And, it goes without saying, this pandemic has shone a light on the incredible front-line workers who protect us each and every day.

Now, as we face at least three straight months living under peacetime emergency declarations issued by our governor, some gaps in our state’s structure are becoming more and more apparent.

For instance, Minnesota’s Constitution provides three equal branches of government, but the extent to which the executive branch has used peacetime emergency powers has brought notice to an imbalance in our representative system of government. The governor has issued nearly 60 executive orders since first declaring a peacetime emergency on March 13. Or, to say it another way, nearly 60 decisions which impact each and every one of us deeply have been made by one person, without legislative accountability or participation in the process. 

Without doubt, we need tools allowing for swift action from a governor in the event of a crisis. But there also need to be limits and, in our current situation, the decisions warranting urgency were made long ago. Still, a governor has the latitude to continue issuing executive orders until the Legislature puts a stop to it.

That process seems backward and a constitutional amendment has been drafted in the House to flip it. It would ask Minnesotans whether our state should require legislative approval for a governor to extend a peacetime emergency beyond seven days. If the Legislature is not in session, the governor would need to call a special session to gain legislative approval for a peacetime emergency extension of up to 30 days.

This change would not help our immediate situation, but it is worth adopting for the future to restore the balance of three co-equal branches of government in our state. Minnesotans deserve to know they have representation and their legislator is most accountable to them. This would show Minnesotans we are serving their best interests and that we want to participate in creating solutions when challenges arise. 

The true cost of shutting down businesses and sidelining workers also is starting to reveal itself in economic terms. Minnesota’s bottom line has taken a $4 billion turn for the worse since the February forecast was issued. When people are not working and businesses are not taking in earnings, it results in budgetary challenges for the state or, more precisely, the taxpayers.

That is why I have authored a bill (H.F. 4651) making the state responsible for all just costs caused by the issuance of executive orders. The goal is to make sure all the costs to citizens are thoroughly considered before drastic steps are taken that could jeopardize a person’s livelihood. We have 640,000 workers who are out of a job, entrepreneurs who are losing it all and a state facing a $2.4 billion shortfall due to the COVID-19 outbreak and Minnesota’s response to it. There needs to be direct accountability in our system and my bill would provide that.

Finally, I would like to mention something that will be revealed over the long haul: While the Class of 2020 is suffering something of an injustice today, the future is bright for this year’s graduates and I congratulate them. With that in mind, I fully support rescinding the statewide guidance that advises graduation ceremonies not take place this year. Schools vary greatly throughout our state and flexibility should be provided. Local communities should be able to resume careful planning and conduct safe ceremonies with proper distancing observed. If they can make it work, let them do so.

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