After discussions over the weekend, state legislative leaders have decided to recess the Minnesota Legislature from Tuesday, March 17, through Tuesday, April 14. This decision was made after consultation with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) on how best to protect legislators, staff and the public from the COVID-19 outbreak. It also mirrors decisions made by other state legislatures in recent days.
With rare exceptions, committees will not meet during the recess. Floor sessions will be called on an as-needed basis to pass legislation agreed to by all legislative leaders and Governor Walz. Floor sessions and committee meetings will be configured consistent with MDH guidelines to protect legislators and staff from spreading coronavirus.
At a press conference announcing the decision all four legislative leaders encouraged the public to continue reaching out to their legislators during the recess via phone, email and mail. While in person meetings with legislators are not likely during the recess, many legislators are expected to continue to take meetings via phone.
Before recessing, both the House and Senate plan to pass legislation funding coronavirus assistance for rural hospitals. The vote is scheduled for this evening, giving House and Senate negotiators time to work through remaining details.
Legislative Work Will Continue
Notwithstanding these significant restrictions, legislative leaders made clear that the business of the 2020 session will continue during the recess. Legislation that will continue to be discussed, worked on, and potentially moved during the recess falls into three major categories:
- Legislation needed to address the COVID-19 outbreak.
- Legislation deemed “mission-critical” to complete the work of the Legislature, primarily the biennial capital investment bill and the supplemental budget: and.
- Legislation having bipartisan agreement.
There will be approximately one month after the legislature reconvenes in mid-April to discuss other, non-coronavirus legislative initiatives prior to the May 18 adjournment date.
Governor Walz Declares State Emergency and Closes Schools
On Sunday, March 15, Governor Walz declared a state emergency and ordered all public school districts and charter schools to close by Wednesday, March 18, for 11 days. School districts and charter schools have the discretion to close earlier. From March 18-27, there will be no school instruction, but all school personnel are required to report to work in order to create a distance learning plan.
Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) Commissioner Mary Catherine Ricker said the top priority is the safety and security of students and that the administration’s focus is to find a way for students to continue to get the education they need and deserve, notwithstanding the coronavirus outbreak. The emergency executive order requires schools to provide care for elementary-age children of health care professionals, first responders and other emergency workers. Commissioner Ricker stated that schools should continue paying hourly workers and other staff.
During the recess it is anticipated that Governor Walz, pursuant to this declaration of a state emergency, will have extensive authority to deal with the coronavirus outbreak. Legislative leaders pledged to both work with and monitor Governor Walz in the exercise of that authority.
Governor Walz’ executive order can be found here.
With the state’s response to the coronavirus outbreak rapidly evolving be sure to check back for the latest developments.
As the number of cases around the world grows, Faegre Drinker’s Coronavirus Resource Center provides information to help you understand and assess the legal, regulatory and commercial implications of COVID-19.