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Minnesota Legislature

Emergency powers repeal again fails to garner enough House support

House Speaker Melissa Hortman gavels in the fifth special session of the year Oct. 12. Photo by Paul Battaglia

The Department of Health said Monday that 2,144 Minnesotans have died so far from COVID-19 and there have been 113,439 positive cases in the state.

With that as a background, the Legislature began a fifth special session of 2020 Monday. It was again prompted by Gov. Tim Walz extending the state’s peacetime emergency by 30 days — this time through Nov. 12 — in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“My top priority remains the health and safety of Minnesotans,” Walz said in a statement. “As we watch cases rise dramatically in states around us, we must double down in our efforts to protect Minnesota from the spread of COVID-19.”

Debate on terminating the peacetime emergency 10/12/20

Supporters say Walz having the power to act unilaterally allows the state to respond quickly to the pandemic. For example, the governor has implemented a mask mandate, business regulations and eviction protections with the idea of keeping Minnesotans safe.

However, each time the emergency order is extended, Walz must call lawmakers to St. Paul for a special session.

Just like gatherings the past four months, the DFL-controlled House again voted against bringing up a concurrent resolution to end the governor’s peacetime emergency powers in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The vote was 69-64.

A similar concurrent resolution was approved 36-31 by the Republican-controlled Senate.

Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester) believes the governor wishes he wouldn’t need to use the executive powers and no legislators want them to continue, but we are in a challenging time.

“That represents tools that we must have in order to keep people safe,” she said during the three-hour discussion that preceded the vote.

“We need to recognize that we continue to be in a dangerous emergency situation and we’re taking the steps we need to, and that our governor is taking the steps he needs to as well,” echoed Rep. Dave Pinto (DFL-St. Paul).

Rep. Anne Neu argues for the motion to suspend the rules in order to take up a resolution that would end the governor’s emergency powers. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Rep. Anne Neu (R-North Branch) and Rep. Jim Nash (R-Waconia) noted Walz has issued zero pandemic-related executive orders since the House last met Sept. 11. Nash urged members to make their election certificates “relevant again.”

“Our constitutional rights are continuing to be arbitrarily infringed and we don’t have a clear objective or evidence that it’s necessary,” added Rep. Jeremy Munson (R-Lake Crystal).

Collaboration was urged by Rep. John Petersburg (R-Waseca): “We are collectively smarter than any one of us. It’s time for us to also know that the governor with the Legislature is going to be smarter than just he by himself.”

A handful of Republicans were critical of the effect Walz’s mandates have had on local businesses and the state’s economy.

“What’s happening in the economy is happening because of a disease, not because of a governor,” said House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler (DFL-Golden Valley). “… It is not the governor’s emergency powers or his use of them that has caused this problem. It is an act of nature. We are doing the best that we can.”

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