ST. PAUL — As the state braces for the worst of the third and most severe wave of coronavirus infections and resulting economic fallout, lawmakers agree that Minnesotans need help — but they aren't yet on the same page about how and when it's distributed.
Gov. Tim Walz on Monday, Nov. 23, told reporters that he and legislative leaders were set to announce emergency relief measures for businesses and residents as soon as the next day. Walz went on to say he was prepared to call legislators back into a special session "immediately" to pass the agreed-upon measure because "the sooner the better."
But within hours of Walz's comments, Republican leadership came out to say they had not been consulted and no relief package deal had been reached. Walz said he'd worked with the Democratic-majority House leaders on a relief package, but not yet Senate Republicans, whose stamp of approval is key.
On Monday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said in a statement that “Senate Republicans are committed to recovering our economy that has been harmed by broad and prolonged shutdowns."
"We will work with anyone to find solutions and have not yet received any special session notice or relief proposal from the Governor," he said.
The push to move a package through the Minnesota Legislature comes days after the state implemented a set of closures and restrictions on restaurants, bars, entertainment venues and fitness centers amid the state's third and most severe wave of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths. Walz said the new measures were aimed at limiting possible sources of COVID-19 transmission as hospitals in the state struggle to keep up with the demand for care from patients sickened with the disease and other conditions.
Walz said the legislation and funding could act as a “bridge” until Congress approves another round of funding at the federal level, and he has repeatedly taken aim at the federal government for not offering states more assistance faster. The Democratic-Farmer-Labor governor said his proposal would include sales tax forgiveness for bars and restaurants, waive fees, offer direct relief to workers and provide grants to restaurants to provide food to health care workers, long-term care facilities and food banks.
Also on Monday, legislators in a gesture of bipartisanship backed a social media pledge to "defeat COVID-19" by following common recommendations from public health professionals, like wearing a face mask in public spaces and social distancing. As of Monday morning, state representatives said over 40 Democratic and Republican legislators have taken the pledge.
Rep. Patrick Garofalo, R-Farmington, said, "The virus does not care if you’re Republican, Democrat, or Independent. It impacts all of us."