Gov. Tim Walz said Wednesday he will convene the Minnesota Legislature for a special session on Sept. 11 in order to extend his COVID-19 peacetime emergency by another 30 days.
Walz first declared a peacetime emergency on March 13, which is allowed under the Minnesota Constitution. However, state law says if a governor determines the emergency needs to be extended beyond 30 days and the Legislature isn't in session, the governor must immediately convene the House and Senate so they can vote to end his powers if they desire.
“While Minnesota has taken life-saving action, the threat of COVID-19 remains,” Gov. Walz said in a statement. “It’s imperative that we have the tools necessary to respond to this rapidly-evolving virus quickly and decisively in order to safeguard the health and wellbeing of each and every Minnesotan.”
The governor says extending the peacetime emergency by another 30 days is crucial to ensure the state can continue to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. These peacetime emergencies allow the state to respond without going through the Legislature and give Minnesota access to federal emergency funding.
“COVID-19 is unpredictable, and there is still so much that we do not know,” Lt. Gov. Flanagan said in a statement. “This pandemic is not over. With the fall and winter months fast approaching, we know the next stages of this virus will continue to present a challenge, especially to underserved communities. We must be prepared to respond quickly and efficiently in order to keep all Minnesotans healthy, safe, and informed.”
Walz has come increasingly under criticism from Minnesota Republicans for not bringing the emergency to an end, with the GOP-controlled Senate voting to end his emergency powers during the previous three special sessions, but every time it has been blocked by the DFL-controlled House.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka among those leading the calls for Walz's powers to end. He said at the very least he wants Walz to set benchmarks that the state would have to meet in order to end the emergency.
Gazelka also criticized the fact that many school districts are reopening either with distance learning or a hybrid version of distance and in-person instruction, though the Walz Administration ultimately left the decision on how to reopen up to school districts, which Republicans had been calling for throughout the summer, albeit with their decisions based on state COVID-19 data.
Positive cases have been trending upwards in Minnesota over the past six weeks despite the introduction of a statewide mask mandate, however Minnesota has not seen the huge spikes in cases seen in neighboring states – namely Iowa and the Dakotas – that don't have mask mandates, and have few to zero capacity restrictions on businesses or large gatherings.
Deaths from COVID-19 have also been on the rise again in Minnesota, albeit are still significantly lower than the highs seen during May and early June.
The governor's office says the Minnesota's peacetime emergency is consistent with the ongoing national emergency that President Donald Trump declared and the emergencies that have been declared in every other state, which allow governors and officials to respond to the evolving threats related to the pandemic.
According to the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library, this is the first time in state history that a governor has called four special sessions.