Skip to main content

Republicans vote down mask mandate for MN Senate floor

Instead, they want to "strongly encourage" that people wear masks.
Sen. Melissa Wicklund, DFL-Bloomington, proposing a mask mandate in the Senate on Thursday.

Sen. Melissa Wicklund, DFL-Bloomington, proposing a mask mandate in the Senate on Thursday.

Republicans in the Minnesota Senate on Thursday voted down a proposal that would have required masks at the Capitol during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Sen. Melissa Wicklund, DFL-Bloomington, offered an amendment to the proposed temporary rules of Senate that would require members and staff to wear face masks when they're working in the state Capitol complex. 

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said he appreciates "the spirit" of Wicklund's amendment, "except for the fact that it's mandated versus strongly encouraged." 

So, Gazelka introduced an amendment to Wicklund's amendment that would "strongly encourage" members and staff to wear face masks, but not require it as Wicklund's would have. 

For nearly an hour on Thursday, Democrats argued in favor of the mask mandate, while Republicans questioned the effectiveness of masks, wondered what the punishment would be if a member was caught not wearing one, and what types of material would be allowed. 

Eventually, the Republican-controlled Senate voted 36-31 on Gazelka's amendment to Wicklund's amendment that would strongly encourage masks, but not require them.

Because of this, Wicklund withdrew her amendment, saying strongly encouraging a mask isn't a rule. 

The Democrat-controlled House has a mask mandate in place as of Wednesday after the Rules Committee approved it, House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, tweeted.

Senate mask debate

When introducing her proposal to require masks at the Capitol Complex, Wicklund said requiring people to wear face coverings would mean Senate and staff would be adhering to public health mitigation guidelines and it would make their workplace safer for all to participate in a safe and effective manner. 

Some senators haven't attended floor sessions in-person due to the lack of mask-wearing. 

"We show to our members, our colleagues, our staff that we all care and have mutual respect for the role each of us play in the Senate," Wicklund said. She added that by putting it in the Senate rules it shows that it's something they all can agree to and abide by.

Gazelka said in Senate guidelines, masks are encouraged because "it probably is helpful." And earlier this week, Gazelka said he put out a letter "strongly encouraging" members to wear a mask to the floor, saying part of it is respecting those "who may have a different point of view." 

Sen. John Marty, DFL-Roseville, said encouraging someone to wear a mask isn't a rule, and called it "outrageous" that some senators refuse to wear masks to protect their colleagues.

Gazelka'ss objection to requiring face masks is not that surprising. When Gov. Tim Walz issued a statewide face mask mandate over the summer, Gazelka said it "feels like a heavy-handed, broad approach" when so many businesses required masks and many Minnesotans already wear them. 

He said Thursday that "virtually everybody" is wearing a mask. On Tuesday, the opening day of the session, eight senators – all Republicans – went maskless on the Senate floor. 

Gazelka went on to say that people in greater Minnesota have a different attitude toward masks. 

"We have to figure out a way to accommodate both of those sides," Gazelka said, adding that what the Senate is doing right now – social distancing and recommending masks – is enough because no one has been infected while doing their job at the Senate that he's aware of. 

The Senate GOP Caucus did have a COVID-19 outbreak in November after they gathered in-person to celebrate the 2020 election. One senator who attended the event – Sen. Jerry Relph, R-St. Cloud – died of COVID-19 complications in December.

After his death, Relph's daughter, Dana Relph, called on Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, to apologize for holding the event that put senators, staff and event center employees at risk.

Gazelka, who also contracted COVID in November and whose mother in law died with virus, said in a statement following the November outbreak that he would use what he learned to inform future decisions ahead of the 2021 legislative session, adding that he is "committed to protecting senators, staff and the people with whom we come in contact."

Next Up

Screen Shot 2022-11-25 at 6.44.11 PM

Standoff in Prior Lake: Man assaulted officer, broke into home

The suspect allegedly assault an officer outside Kwik Trip, fled and broke into a home.

snow - 12-10-21 - Joe Nelson - 5

Accumulating snow possible in Twin Cities next week

The storm system could arrive in the Tuesday-Wednesday timeframe.

Target store snow

With Black Friday barely underway, Target reveals Cyber Monday deals

Plans for the two-day sale were revealed Friday morning.

Screen Shot 2022-11-25 at 9.37.25 AM

Man waves replica assault weapon at drivers in downtown Minneapolis

The alarming incident was spotted by the new MPD chief, Brian O'Hara.

Screen Shot 2022-11-25 at 9.29.58 AM

Extremely drunk driver arrested in Chaska

The driver was more than four times the legal limit.

Screen Shot 2022-11-25 at 8.21.21 AM

Stillwater police looking for suspect who stole vehicle with 1-year-old inside

The suspect abandoned the vehicle with the child still inside just 5 minutes after the theft.

Screen Shot 2022-11-23 at 5.01.34 PM

Suspected Bloomington restaurant killer arrested in Oklahoma

The 47-year-old Texas man was arrested around 12:30 a.m. Thursday.

Screen Shot 2022-11-24 at 9.16.39 AM

Minnetonka woman, 23, ID'd as victim killed in Minneapolis crash

The fatal crash happened near the Minneapolis Convention Center on Nov. 21.

canada-goose-g304751a8f_1280

More than 100 geese, ducks found dead on partially frozen MN lake

The discovery was made in Waseca at the weekend.

e-bike

After losing sponsor, advocates fear Minneapolis' Nice Ride could shut down

They are calling on the city to provide financial support till a new sponsor is found.

Screen Shot 2022-11-23 at 3.32.46 PM

Colleen Lindstrom announces departure from MyTalk radio show

Lindstrom's last broadcast on the long-running show will be Dec. 9.

Related

classroom mask

Anoka-Hennepin, Moorhead schools enact mask mandates

Previously, the districts were only recommending masks for unvaccinated students and staff.

coronavirus, masks, covid-19

City of Ramsey votes to stop enforcing Minnesota's face mask mandate

City Council members say it infringes on individual rights.

Governor Tim Walz

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.

classroom mask

Rochester schools may change mask rules to require them for all

The school board will consider the proposal, as well as others, on Aug. 17.

Pexels - face mask covid holding

COVID: Minnetonka to consider citywide mask mandate

If approved, it would join Minneapolis and St. Paul in requiring masks.

coronavirus, masks, covid-19

Wisconsin Republicans aim to end governor's mask mandate

They've introduced a resolution to remove the governor's emergency powers.

walmart mask

Wisconsin Senate votes to end statewide mask mandate

The joint resolution now heads to the Republican-controlled state assembly.

classroom mask

Rochester schools will require face masks for young learners

Students older than 12 are encouraged but not required to wear masks.