ST. PAUL — Minnesota Republicans on Monday, July 13, raised concerns about allowing the governor to maintain expansive executive authority as Gov. Tim Walz again extended the state's peacetime emergency to deal with the coronavirus.
The Legislature kicked off a special session to weigh whether the emergency should go on another 30 days, allowing the state to deploy the National Guard and pull down federal disaster funds.
With the House set to support the extension, the Legislature was expected to come up short of vetoing the proposal. The Senate on a 36-31 vote passed a resolution to end the peacetime emergency.
Walz said it was important to continue the peacetime emergency to allow the state flexibility to combat COVID-19. And he noted that he moved to extend the peacetime emergency as all states with the exception of Wisconsin have similar orders in place.
“COVID-19 continues to present an unprecedented and rapidly evolving challenge to our state,” Walz said in a news release. “The peacetime emergency has provided us tools to save lives and mitigate the devastating impacts of this pandemic. As cases skyrocket in other states, we can’t let our guard down now.”
Republicans in the state Legislature, meanwhile, said the move was unnecessary and constituted an executive overreach.
"We do not think that the governor should continue the emergency powers. The emergency part of the pandemic is over," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, told reporters. "We have all the personal protection equipment we need, we have everything in place and if you look at the number of people that need the ICU beds and the number of people that are dying, it has dramatically dropped over the last month or so."
Health officials on Monday reported that 499 more people had tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the state's total since the pandemic began to 42,772. A total of 1,504 Minnesotans died from the illness. As the number of illnesses began inching up again, state health officials and Walz have said they're weighing a statewide mask mandate.
In a debate about the extension, Republican lawmakers in the Senate said the state had reached health metrics indicating the governor could let the emergency lapse, at least for now.
“We believe that things are going to get worse again in the fall and if that happens and when that happens, the governor should put in place some of these authorities,” Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, said. “For now, Minnesotans would prefer to be asked to do the right thing, not told or threatened.”
As southern states tracked surges in COVID-19 cases and deaths following business reopenings there, Democrats said the pandemic remained a threat and said the governor should maintain those expanded powers.
"This resolution is akin to sticking your head in the sand," Sen. Jason Isaacson, D-Shoreview, said. "There is a crisis. We have a real problem right now."
Republicans in the House have said they would oppose the effort and could also sink a public projects bill if the governor refused to cede his increased authority. But they didn't put up a similar resolution in that chamber on Monday.
House Democrats also said they supported an extension of the peacetime emergency.
"We cannot have a vote to surrender to the coronavirus as a precondition to the bonding bill," House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley, said. "We cannot decide that it's more important to quibble about the governor's powers than it is to yield to the COVID-19 pandemic."