Gov. Walz offers pathway to 'wind-down' his emergency powers

"I recognize our shared interest in finding a pathway ... to ensure an orderly end of the peacetime emergency when it is no longer needed," Walz writes.
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Governor Tim Walz

Gov. Tim Walz has sent a letter to the Minnesota Legislature that lays out a plan to phase out his use of emergency powers by enacting into law some of his executive orders. 

"I recognize our shared interest in finding a pathway to work collaboratively to mitigate the effects of the pandemic and to ensure an orderly end of the peacetime emergency when it is no longer needed," Walz wrote in the letter sent to legislative leaders on Thursday, Jan. 7. 

Walz called on lawmakers to pass laws that include the "core provisions of the emergency response that have been keeping Minnesotans safe." 

"This (the laws) will be needed to facilitate the wind-down of the peacetime emergency and related emergency executive orders at a time when the pandemic presents a less significant and rapidly evolving challenge to Minnesota," the letter says. 

For months, Republicans and Democrats have asked the governor to include the legislature in the state's decisions on how to respond to the pandemic. 

The COVID-19 measures Walz is asking the legislature to put into law include: 

  • Requiring people to wear face coverings in public indoor spaces and indoor businesses.
  • Flexibility for school districts to choose their learning models at the local level, with appropriate safety precautions.
  • "Commonsense" rules that ensure businesses continue providing safe environments "to enable commerce to thrive."
  • Protections for workers from unsafe conditions, as well as protection against any retaliation from raising concerns about workplace safety.
  • Changes to the state's unemployment insurance program so more people without jobs can receive timely support. 
  • Continue the evictions moratorium, but include a timeline for its end to avoid surprises and a surge in evictions. 
  • Protections for Minnesotans against price gouging on essential goods and services and garnishment of COVID-19 relief payments. 

The governor said they need to work together to make sure the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic continues to have the "speed and flexibility" that Walz has said the peacetime emergency has provided, including when it comes to distributing the vaccine.

Walz said the trends in the pandemic's trajectory are encouraging, but stresses that COVID will still have an impact across Minnesota until everyone has access to the vaccine. 

"In the December special session, we showed Minnesotans that we could put aside politics and provide support for small businesses and workers," Walz wrote. "I look forward to continuing this spirit of collaboration as we enter the 2021 session."

Gov. Walz declared a peacetime emergency due to COVID-19 on March 13, 2020, and has extended it every 30 days since, as state law requires.

The governor has said the emergency declaration gives the state flexibility to quickly respond to the pandemic. He's used his executive orders to issue stay-at-home orders, a mask mandate, temporarily close businesses, and halt evictions, among a slew of other things. 

But his critics argue Walz has gone too far with his executive orders and have said he should instead work with the Legislature on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

What's more, many Republicans and some Democrats have sought to remove his emergency powers altogether, but weren't successful because doing so requires a majority vote from both chambers. (The GOP-controlled Senate several times voted to revoke his powers during special sessions in 2020, but the DFL-controlled House never did.)

And the effort to revoke Walz's powers is expected to continue during this year's legislative session, which began Tuesday. 

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said removing the governor's emergency powers is among the priorities for the Senate GOP Caucus this year. 

“I’m looking forward to a day where emergency powers are lifted and the governor feels like we can get there,” Gazelka said before the start of the session, according to MinnPost. “I’m hoping that it’s sooner rather than later.”

In an opinion piece published Thursday in the Pioneer Press, Gazelka wrote Walz should end his emergency powers and rescind all his executive orders "after vaccinating all priority populations in Phase 1," saying the governor "should agree the emergency is over when we are vaccinating our healthy populations ..."

He also called for getting kids back into schools and reopening businesses without restrictions, saying "COVID-19 data can light a path forward without shutdowns, restrictions and emergency powers."

Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said recently he wants Walz's powers replaced with a framework that gives legislators control over business closures, the Star Tribune reported earlier this week.

As of this writing, Minnesota's legislative leaders hadn't publicly commented on the requests laid out in Walz's letter.

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