GOP-led efforts to strip Gov. Tim Walz of his emergency powers to handle the coronavirus pandemic will resume at a special session set for next week, but they will fail, area senators predicted at an Eggs & Issues event on Thursday.
Legislators said Walz would seek to retain those powers. The Republican Senate would try to revoke them. And the DFL House would support the governor, although there would be fewer DFL House members in support of the measure than in the past.
"It is very difficult for one person, the governor, to make executive orders for the entire state without the input of those legislators who represent all corners of the state," said state GOP Sen. Carla Nelson of Rochester, who opposes an extension of those powers.
The political conversation took place via Zoom and featured Nelson, GOP Sen. Dave Senjem of Rochester and DFL Sen. Nick Frentz of North Mankato. KAAL-TV news director Betsy Singer and Rochester Area Chamber of Commerce President Kathleen Harrington served as moderators.
During an hour-long meeting that featured a 120 people watching from their computers, legislators discussed a proposed $1.5 billion bonding bill, a statewide face mask mandate, police reform, and greater financial support for cities.
Senjem said he supported terminating the governor's powers. The focus, he said, should be on strengthening the state's economy and battling the coronavirus where it has been shown to be the most lethal.
"Restaurant, bar owners and other types of businesses are struggling. They're almost on their knees with respect to being able to survive," Senjem said. "My focus would be 100 percent on protecting the people who are in congregate care or otherwise are immuno-compromised, but let the rest of society work."
To limit the spread of the virus, restaurants are only allowed to serve up to 50 percent of indoor capacity. But many can't even do that.
Senjem, who chairs the Senate Capital Investment Committee, was optimistic about a $1.5 billion bonding or jobs bill that so far has eluded legislators. Factions within the Legislature have tried to use the bonding bill as leverage, saying they won't pass a bill without police reform or the end of Walz's emergency powers.
Millions for a new runway at Rochester International Airport has survived various drafts of the bill. But dollars for regional park projects have not. Senjem called the bill a "heavy construction, job intensive bill" designed to get people back to work.
"At least a billion and half ... this is going to ripple, and it will help us at a time when we need a lot of help," Senjem said.
The discussion also turned to "defunding" police in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. Frentz said there is no effort to defund the police on the DFL agenda. But he was less than optimistic that the sides will hammer out a deal on police reform.
"If a doctor at Mayo Clinic commits malpractice, you can sue him or her. It's virtually impossible to fire a police officer," Frentz said. "Chiefs of Minnesota have said, 'we have fired police officers who have been reinstated through arbitration.'"
"Bottom line: I'm not sure we will have a deal on police reform," he said. "Accountability is the rub."