This week, Gov. Walz issued a long-expected proclamation calling the Legislature into a special session set to begin June 12. The Legislature left plenty of work unfinished when it ended the 2020 regular session on May 18 without passing a bonding bill, addressing the distribution of federal CARES Act dollars to local governments or a range of other things. So why is the Legislature coming back and what is on the agenda?
Walz’s peacetime emergency powers dictate the timing and set up a fight over reopening
While there appears to be common ground forming on some items—including vital CGMC priorities like federal CARES Act dollars to local governments—there are also significant disagreements lingering between Gov. Walz, the GOP-controlled Senate and the DFL-controlled House. So why call the Legislature back now?
According to Gov. Walz, he doesn’t have a choice. The Governor’s peacetime emergency powers, which have been in effect since March 13 and already extended twice, are set to expire Friday. Because the Legislature is not currently in session, if the Governor wants to extend his peacetime emergency authority, state law provides that he “must issue a call immediately convening both houses of the legislature.”
Gov. Walz has remained adamant that the peacetime emergency powers are still essential as COVID-19 continues to spread across the state. The peacetime emergency declaration gives the state access to millions of dollars in emergency federal support to respond to COVID-19 and also vest Gov. Walz with some of the authority he has used to impose restrictions on economic and social life in effort to stop the spread of COVID-19. The powers do not come without controversy, however, and Republican leaders have called for them to end.
Before the end of the regular legislative session, House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt (R-Crown) declared that his caucus would not vote to support a bonding bill until Gov. Walz ends his peacetime emergency powers. This was accompanied by calls for Gov. Walz to ease restrictions on businesses that were bearing the brunt of the economic impact of the pandemic. More recently, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-East Gull Lake) called for the peacetime emergency to come to an end. Sen. Gazelka has vowed that the Senate will vote during the special session to revoke the Governor’s powers—a right they are provided under statute, but requires agreement from the House to take effect, which is unlikely.
For our part, the CGMC has engaged directly with the Walz administration in hopes of collaborating to safely lift additional restrictions and to provide input on how that might be done on a regional basis.
An expanded agenda awaits
The Legislature’s agenda has only expanded since lawmakers left the Capitol on May 18. Minnesota was thrust into the world spotlight following the death of George Floyd at the hands of the Minneapolis Police Department. The resulting protests and civil unrest led to calls from the People of Color and Indigenous caucus for policing and criminal justice reforms to take center stage during special session. Gov. Walz has voiced support, saying that the Legislature should stay in session “until we get it done.”
Sen. Jeff Hayden (DFL-Minneapolis) went so far as to say that those reforms must come before bonding and other priorities, saying, “We want that reform to be on the table or we are not going to have business as usual and start passing bonding bills and start passing all the other things that we need.” Republican leaders like Sen. Gazelka have indicated willingness to engage in the conversation, saying that “Minnesota needs to lead the nation in race reconciliation.” But Sen. Gazelka has also called for caution on police reforms, saying that it deserves a longer look and more public input than he feels can be gathered during a special session—a notion that Gov. Walz quickly rejected.
Even before issues like criminal justice reform were thrust to the forefront, legislators were preparing for the potential of a long summer filled with one or more special sessions to address budget and emergency response issues related to COVID-19. Stay tuned to the CGMC In Brief and follow the CGMC on Twitter and Facebook as the timing of key CGMC priorities like the bonding bill continue to come into focus.