ST. PAUL — Republican leaders in the Minnesota Legislature said Gov. Tim Walz's plan for ending the state's peacetime emergency for the coronavirus was "tone-deaf" and wouldn't quell disagreements over the governor's executive powers.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, and House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, on Monday, Jan. 11, said lawmakers, not the governor, should determine when the peacetime emergency could end and what policies they ought to pass to respond to COVID-19 in the state.
The comments came after Walz last week sent legislative leaders a letter outlining policies he'd ask them to approve before he'd let the peacetime emergency lapse. Among them were plans to set in statute protections for workers and consumers in place under his executive orders and require in law that people wear face coverings in public indoor spaces, as mandated under an order he issued this summer.
In Minnesota, 5,711 people have perished from the illness and its complications and more than 437,000 people have tested positive for the disease since it was first detected in the state.
Daudt and Gazelka during a Forum News Service news conference Monday said they'd put out plans of their own for when the state ought to conclude the peacetime emergency. And they said the governor's directions weren't constructive in moving the state to the next phase of COVID-19 response.
“I just felt like it was tone-deaf in the aspect that the Legislature needs to act, the Legislature needs to have hearings, the Legislature needs to decide for itself what things need to be put in place and we don’t need to be offered an ultimatum from the governor about what those things should or shouldn’t be," Daudt said. "That’s the division of powers between the executive branch and the legislative branch."
Gazelka said the governor's letter "wasn't helpful" and pointed to a op-ed he'd penned in the St. Paul Pioneer Press laying out guidelines of his own for ending the peacetime emergency. He said with vaccines being distributed to more Minnesotans, especially those more vulnerable to adverse complications of COVID-19, the state should take bigger steps to reopen businesses, schools and other sectors of society.
"We've got to get kids back in school, we've got to get back to some sense of normal and I think getting the vaccine out is where we can all agree so that's the direction I think we can go," he said.
Walz said he'd written out clearer guidelines for ending the peacetime emergency after legislative leaders asked for goalposts on when they could expect his emergency powers to end. The governor has said he had a hard time allowing Republican lawmakers to help guide the state's pandemic response because they'd not consistently followed health department guidance around face masking or limiting social gatherings.
"I thought that would be a good overture, a good start," Walz said of his letter.
Democratic leaders in the discussion said lawmakers could step up and approve policies protecting workers, consumers or others, but they'd not yet enacted into law all the safeguards currently in the governor's executive orders.
“Let’s have the Legislature prove that they are capable of bipartisan action to put plans together that are superior to what currently exists in an executive order and I’m certain the governor would be happy to sign those into law,” Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, said. “That’s where I think we’re going to have fruitful conversations.”
Hortman said lawmakers could step up to be more active in the state's COVID-19 response but Walz should keep in place the peacetime emergency as a new strain of COVID-19 takes hold in the state in the event he needs to act quickly.
WATCH THE CONVERSATION HERE: