ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz this week said he plans to call lawmakers back to the Capitol for another special session this month to further address the coronavirus pandemic, rewrite Minnesota policing laws and finish work left undone in the 2020 regular legislative session.
As new infections and deaths from COVID-19 continue to be reported in Minnesota, Walz has said he'll likely need to extend the state's peacetime emergency to free up tools to help him combat COVID-19.
The authority under the peacetime emergency has allowed the governor to close schools, businesses and houses of worship and require most Minnesotans to stay home in an effort to curb the virus' spread and build out resources to treat the sick. And without another extension, the emergency is set to lapse July 12.
“We’re still trying to make the case around the emergency powers," Walz told reporters Monday, June 29, noting he expected to call a special session to extend them. "I’m trying to make sure that we educate and work with legislators around what that means to have the emergency powers."
Minnesota, like most states, has a peacetime emergency in effect allowing the state to draw down federal disaster funding and call on the Minnesota National Guard to assist in testing and transporting personal protective equipment. But unlike all other states, Minnesota has a divided Legislature that could throw a wrench into Walz's plan.
Lawmakers could block another extension of the peacetime emergency if both the House of Representatives and Senate voted to end it. Republican leaders in both chambers have said they intend to do so and they've called on the governor to drop the emergency if he wants their help in passing other measures like a public construction bill.
“We will continue to say that we need to get rid of the emergency powers, there is no emergency anymore," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said. "He must call us back in order to do that."
But Democrats, who control the House, said they support freeing up the additional authority for Walz since the Legislature can seldom agree to bipartisan compromises. Such agreements would be key to giving lawmakers the front seat to COVID-19 response decisions, they said.
Walz in June extended his peacetime emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic and that triggered legislative action. The Senate voted to end the peacetime emergency while the House opted to extend it. Both chambers needed to vote down the extension to block it.