A fourth special session of the year convened Friday, Sept. 11, and spurred on several interesting developments on the Senate floor.
Senate votes were taken on a resolution to end Gov. Tim Walz’s executive power, the Veterans Restorative Justice Act, and the confirmations of commissioners Joseph Sullivan of the Public Utilities Commission, Janet Johnson of the Bureau of Mediation Services and Stephen Kelley of the Minnesota Department of Commerce, with varying results.
The resolution to end the emergency powers passed for the fourth time this year on the typical margin of 36 to 31. COVID-19 deaths linger around an average of seven per day for the last 30 days. Thanks to the collaborative work done between the executive and legislative branches before the end of the constitutional session, we have had no shortage of hospital beds and the curve has been flattened. Thus, there is no reason for unilateral decisions, and I once again voted yes to end emergency powers. Without the House’s cooperation on this resolution, the governor may continue with his current position for as long as he chooses.
The Veterans Restorative Justice Act passed unanimously in the Senate for the second time this year. The bill aims to divert at-risk and non-violent veteran offenders toward probation and social service programs, instead of jail time. The Senate approved the same bill in the August special session, but it did not pass in the House in either instance.
We have seen the widespread negative effects of PTSD and other trauma-related mental health crises in veterans who commit lesser crimes. I have also noted the continued positive results of our states’ veterans' courts, which take their trauma into account. I was happy to vote yes on this bill and hope it will be signed into law soon to help our Minnesota veterans.
I would like to see a supplementary budget bill pass now that the governor’s moratorium on changing the state budget expired on Monday, Sept. 21. The CIP program at Willow River is in danger of closing, and I will explore every option to prevent that from happening. Commissioner Schnell of the DOC cites budget concerns for the closing of Willow River’s extremely successful program. The agency, however, had their budget in place long ago.
Supplementary spending will not fix the issue long term, nor will moving the program to another area, as has been suggested by the DOC. Neither option saves money or the program. Thus, I continue looking for recourse.
Finally, there were confirmation votes for three of Gov. Walz’s appointed commissioners. Commissioner Joseph Sullivan and Commissioner Janet Johnson were quickly confirmed in their roles. However, a bipartisan vote removed Commissioner Stephen Kelley from his position as the Minnesota Department of Commerce head.
A litany of reasons for the Commissioner’s removal were cited on the Senate floor, including his lack of experience in the insurance regulatory field, weaponized regulations against business, market conduct exam discrepancies and changing the law through consent decrees, rather than through the legislative process. When a commissioner is judged to have failed at properly managing an agency, we in the Legislature must jump in.
The fourth special session marks a record in Minnesota history for most legislative sessions in a single year. With the looming possibility of a fifth convening next month, it seems that the record will continue even further. There is work to be done, and my hope is that we will achieve the ability to collaborate with the Executive Branch on COVID-19 responses in the future.
Sen. Jason Rarick represents District 11 in the Minnesota Senate.