ST. PAUL — Gov. Tim Walz on Thursday, Jan. 7, outlined for legislative leaders a framework they should set about enacting in law before he'd consider ending the state's peacetime emergency for COVID-19 and abandoning his emergency powers.
The move comes as the state Legislature kicks off its 2021 legislative session and as lawmakers in both major political parties have asked for clearer details about how they can take a more active role in guiding the state's response to the pandemic.
Walz in a letter to Minnesota's four legislative leaders asked that they set in statute a mask mandate, protections for workers and for consumers, an eviction moratorium, continued flexibility for school districts and safety standards for businesses operating during the pandemic.
The governor has set in place the policies under the state's peacetime emergency that would lapse without replacement in state statute. And while some have come under fire from Republicans, business owners and fed-up Minnesotans, Walz said the protections and requirements are crucial to weathering the pandemic.
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"With a light now at the end of the tunnel, I encourage you to begin the work of enacting into law the core provisions of the emergency response that have been keeping Minnesotans safe," the first-term Democratic-Farmer-Labor governor wrote. "This 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."
It wasn't immediately clear how the request would go over with Republican lawmakers, who'd pushed back on the face mask mandate when it was implemented this summer. GOP leaders for months have called for Walz to include them in COVID-19 related decisionmaking and again this week said they planned to move forward with ending the peacetime emergency since the Legislature can more quickly respond when its in session.
Walz in early March implemented and the Legislature approved the state's peacetime emergency to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. The governor used the powers granted under the emergency to scale up testing capacity and to deploy the Minnesota National Guard, as well as to temporarily require Minnesotans to stay at home unless completing essential tasks and limit various sectors of public life.
Since COVID-19 took hold in the state, the disease has killed 5,572 Minnesotans and sickened 429,570.
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