April 17, 2020

Minnesota Legislative Update: Legislature Reconvenes

The Minnesota Legislature returned from an extended recess this week, with committee meetings held via teleconference and floor sessions subject to social distancing and other measures designed to protect members and the public from spreading COVID-19. This approach is likely to be the norm for the remainder of the legislative session. In spite of these restrictions, the Legislature passed a fourth COVID-19 relief bill, an emergency insulin bill, and legislation allowing Minnesota bars and restaurants to sell bottled beer and wine with delivery or takeout meals.

Governor Walz issued Executive Order 20-35 extending his peacetime emergency declaration until May 13. This declaration allows the Governor to exercise emergency powers and is the basis for his executive orders closing bars, restaurants, and other places of public accommodation and requiring Minnesotans to stay at home except when engaged in essential activities and critical work. The Governor’s stay at home order is set to expire on May 4. The Governor announced this week that he will use this time to work with regional governors, business leaders and public health professionals to develop appropriate health protocols and restart Minnesota’s economy.

Legislature Returns From Extended Recess

After returning from an extended recess the Legislature spent time this week implementing rules to protect members and the public from COVID-19 while allowing work on the budget, a bonding bill and other legislative business to continue. In response to the social distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC), the House and Senate passed temporary rules allowing for remote working and voting processes. Committees in both chambers held virtual hearings, indicating this will likely be the process for the remainder of session.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) announced that the Senate will likely continue to meet in session every 3 days as required by the Minnesota constitution. Prior to adjourning on April 16, Gazelka and Senate Minority Leader Kent (DFL-Woodbury) introduced a joint resolution, which passed, allowing the House and Senate to independently decide whether to meet every three days and authorizing each to not meet every third day until April 28 without violating the constitution. The House is expected to consider a similar resolution when it meets Friday, April 17.

The Senate is set to meet again on Monday, April 20.

MMB Revenue Update Forecasts Uncertainty

Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) released a revenue update on Minnesota’s tax receipts and budget outlook late last week. This update shows general fund receipts $103 million (3.8%) lower than projected in the February 2020 forecast. In addition, the update forecasts a significant recession in the United States with real GDP decreasing by over 5% in 2020, compared to the 2.1% expansion predicted in the February forecast.

MMB Commissioner Myron Frans and State Economist Dr. Laura Kalambokidis discussed the revenue update before the House Ways and Means Committee on Monday. Commissioner Frans testified that MMB’s will release a revised budget forecast in early May to give the legislature some time to address COVID-19 related budget impacts before it adjourns May 18. Because of the uncertainty of predicting state revenues due to many tax payment/filing extensions and completely predicting the full impact of COVID-19 related budget impacts Frans indicated there may be a need for multiple special sessions or at least informational budgetary updates over the summer and fall even with a revised budget forecast. If there are budgetary deficits, Governor Walz has the authority to use the budget reserve or unallotment without seeking legislative approval.

Commissioner Frans also testified that the administration is discussing how to proceed with a capital investment bill considering the state’s changed economic circumstances. In February, Governor Walz released a $2.5 billion bonding bill proposal. Dr. Kalambokidis testified that while a bonding bill can provide an economic stimulus debt service’s impact on the state’s constitutional mandate to balance the budget must also be considered.

The MMB Revenue and Economic Update can be found here.

Walz Takes Steps to Reopen Economy

On Thursday, Governor Walz joined governors from Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky in coordinating reopening the Midwest regional economy. The bipartisan group of governors indicated their number one priority regarding reopening is the safety of their citizens. In a statement released by the governors, they will be examining at least the following four factors:

  • Sustained control of the rate of new infections and hospitalizations.
  • Enhanced ability to test and trace.
  • Sufficient health care capacity to handle resurgence.
  • Best practices for social distancing in the workplace.

Governor Walz’s press release can be found here.

The Governor’s office and the Department of Employment and Economic Development (DEED) have been actively engaging with businesses over the last two weeks to develop protocols and a statewide plan to return workers on site and allow businesses to reopen. DEED has created a portal on their website for businesses to provide information about best practices regarding social distancing.

Fourth COVID-19 Response Bill Passes

A fourth COVID-19 response bill has passed the legislature. This bill contains a wide range of policy changes and minor funding to the Second Harvest Heartland food bank. Policy changes include temporarily modifying open meeting laws, requirements for marriage license applications, and legal standards for wills. Notably, this bill did not include additional funding support for small businesses, which legislators of both parties voiced support for during debate on previous COVID-19 response legislation.

Governor Walz signed the package into law on April 15.

Other Floor Action

The House and Senate also passed legislation making insulin more affordable and authorizing bars and restaurants to sell limited amounts of beer and wine with takeout orders. After a year of discussion, the Alec Smith Emergency Insulin Act overwhelmingly passed the legislature this week. Authored by Rep. Howard (DFL- Ritchfield) and Sen. Scott Jensen (R- Chaska), HF3100 establishes an emergency program that would provide diabetics with less than a seven day supply to pay no more than $35 for a thirty day supply with no income requirements. Insulin manufacturers would reimburse pharmacies for the cost. Under the long-term provision, insulin manufacturers are required to offer a 90-day supply for no more than $50. To qualify, a recipients’ family income would have to be less than 400% of federal poverty guidelines. Drug companies failing to comply face fines of up to $3.6M the first year and $7.2M the second. The bill implements the work of a bipartisan working group who has been working on this issue since last session.

Legislation authored by Senator Karin Housley (R- Stillwater) and Representative Laurie Halverson (DFL-Eagan) allowing Minnesota bars and restaurants to sell bottled beer and wine during the COVID-19 outbreak. The bill allows takeout and delivery orders to include a six pack of beer or bottle of wine accompanying a food order. Concerns were raised regarding liquor not being included and the need for a more comprehensive liquor bill to address tap rooms, craft breweries, and licensing. SF 4489 passed the Senate 65-2 and the House 129-1. Governor Walz has expressed support for this idea during press conferences and is expected to sign the bill into law.

Governor Issues Executive Order Authorizing Golf and Other Outdoor Activities

Governor Walz issued Executive Order 20-38 expanding allowable outdoor recreational activities. Those activities include golf courses and driving ranges, boating including Marina services and dock installation, hunting, fishing, and hiking while maintaining social distancing. Campgrounds, outdoor retail stores, recreational rental, launches, and guided fishing remain closed. The order is effective starting April 18th at 5:00PM. Other recent executive orders include salary reductions for Governor Walz and Cabinet level officials and directions for the Minnesota Department of Health to share the addresses of Minnesotans that have tested positive for COVID-19 with the Department of Public Safety and first responders in the state.

In total, Governor Walz has now issued 38 executive orders in response to the COVID-19 outbreak:

Important Dates

  • May 15-16: GOP State Convention
  • May 18: Legislature Adjourns
  • May 30-31: DFL State Convention
  • June 2: Candidate Filing Deadline for 2020 Election
  • August 11: Primary Election Day
  • November 3: Election Day
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