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Walz calls for vaccine and testing requirements for state's teachers

The governor said there should also be "consistent" COVID mitigation requirements for schools.

Gov. Tim Walz, following a meeting with legislative leaders, outlined pandemic-related measures he wants to see lawmakers tackle in a special session — including testing and vaccine requirements for teachers.

"I urge you to act quickly," wrote Walz, in a letter to lawmakers that his office released Tuesday afternoon, "so that together we can take swift action on these important issues," 

The governor's private meeting with lawmakers earlier in the day came as DFL and GOP lawmakers remained at odds over how to distribute $250 million in pandemic pay to frontline workers. A final decision was supposed to happen by Sept. 6, at which point the governor would have called a special session in order to vote on the plan.

But a month later that hasn't happened, and Walz's special session wish list is longer, touching on not only the frontline worker pay, but drought relief for farmers and ranchers, as well as COVID-related measures. (You can read the full letter here.)

In his letter, Walz also introduces the idea of new COVID mitigation rules for schools. 

Teachers and school staff, the governor said, should have testing and vaccination requirements, something President Joe Biden called on for in September

"Minnesota can and should lead by expeditiously implementing these components of President Biden’s announcement regarding vaccine requirements," Walz wrote.

Walz also laid out his hope of "consistent requirements" for schools, including participation in testing, face mask requirements, notifications to parents when there are COVID cases, isolation and quarantine strategies, and other mitigation measures. 

The governor also called for vaccination and testing requirements for long-term care workers. 

"As in past situations requiring a special session, I stand ready to call a special session as soon as we reach an agreement," Walz wrote.

Walz, the Department of Health and the Department of Education took a hands-off approach to the school year, leaving masking and vaccination decisions up to each school district and individual school leaders. The governor has previously said that, with his emergency powers no longer in place, the state can't legally require masks or vaccines.

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COVID infections in the state are at some of their highest levels since the winter peak. There's been a huge spike among preK-12 students and school workers since the school year began, with 231 schools recently reporting at least five COVID cases.

As things stand now, it will take a special session — and an agreement among lawmakers in the DFL-controlled House and Republican-controlled Senate — to implement any of the governor's stated goals. Many Minnesota Republicans have previously expressed opposition to statewide COVID mandates of any kind.

Complicating things further is Senate Republicans' threats to hold a confirmation vote on Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm. They've already ousted two cabinet officials this way, and a third resigned ahead of a planned vote. All three had served for many months following their appointment, with Walz at one point calling the GOP senators' actions "partisan games."

Sen. Jim Abeler, a Republican from Anoka, said in August he'd like to vote out Malcolm during any upcoming special session. Walz has said he will not call a special session if such a confirmation hearing is planned. 

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