Walz's emergency powers remain front and center for Republican legislators

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Jessie Van Berkel, Star Tribune
·3 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Clashes over Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz's emergency powers during the COVID-19 pandemic were a frequent theme as last year's legislative session negotiations drew to a close.

Prepare for a repeat.

A state of peacetime emergency, which has granted Walz executive decisionmaking powers, has continued for more than 13 months. The last day of the regular legislative session is May 17, and Republican lawmakers said this week that ending the Democratic governor's emergency authority remains a top priority.

"If the governor decides he wants to hang on to emergency powers to keep businesses closed, and force youth to wear masks playing sports, and to do all the things these emergency powers do … you can expect a 'lights-on' type budget," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said, referring to a state budget that would not include any of the additional spending priorities that legislators in both parties have been pushing for this year.

The Legislature and Walz must set the next two-year state budget before July 1 to avoid a government shutdown. Gazelka said Thursday he does not want to shut down the state over Walz's powers or any other priorities. But he said Senate Republicans would back a bare-bones budget if the governor does not work with them on ending his powers and deciding how to spend $2.6 billion from the federal COVID relief package that was passed in March.

When Walz was asked Friday whether he might relent on his emergency powers in exchange for action on police reform — a key Democratic priority — he said he had just had a productive in-person conversation with legislators on the topic.

"The emergency powers aren't something that are enjoyable, that we want to hold on to. They are there because they serve a purpose and they're being replicated in basically every other state," Walz said.

He said there are some things he believes Senate Republicans support, such as the creation of a mass vaccination site at the State Fairgrounds and food assistance, that are contingent on his powers.

"I don't believe they are asking me to send back $40 million in supplemental food assistance. What they're asking is, 'What's the off-ramp of things like the eviction moratorium? What's the off-ramp on business capacity limits?' And those are things we're talking about," Walz said.

On Thursday, House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, condemned House Democrats' proposal to tie the end of a state eviction moratorium — one of the executive decisions Walz made during the pandemic — to the end of the emergency powers.

"Stand up and do your damn jobs," Daudt said to his colleagues, adding that he doubts any lawmakers want to repeat last summer, where they had to reconvene every 30 days to allow Walz's powers to continue.

"I don't see a scenario where we get out of here with the emergency powers still in place," he said.

Jessie Van Berkel • 612-516-0121