The Minnesota Senate voted to strip the governor of his emergency powers for a third time Wednesday after the COVID-19 peacetime emergency was officially extended for another 30 days.
Gov. Tim Walz called lawmakers back to St. Paul for the third special session of the summer, since both houses of the Legislature need to be in session for an emergency to be extended. Walz first declared a peacetime emergency on March 13 in response to the coronavirus pandemic, with each emergency expiring after 30 days.
Wednesday marked the fifth extension of the governor’s peacetime emergency.
“The COVID-19 pandemic continues to present an unprecedented and rapidly evolving challenge to our state. These executive orders helped us build hospital capacity, secure critical care and personal protective equipment for health care providers and launch an aggressive testing strategy,” said Walz. “While these actions have slowed the spread of the virus and saved lives, it is important for us to assess the continued need for existing executive orders and rescind executive orders that are no longer necessary.”
The governor doesn’t need approval from lawmakers to extend an emergency, but the Legislature can vote to cancel an emergency declaration, which the Senate did for a third time Wednesday.
The resolution to revoke Walz’s emergency powers passed the Republican-controlled Senate in a vote of 36-31. While “there is a pandemic,” there “is no longer an emergency,” said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake.
“With the governor’s emergency powers, he decides alone whether or not schools can open, not the local districts. He alone gets to decide whether businesses are open or not. He can decide that you must wear a mask, rather than just wearing it because you think it’s wise. We need to get back to the place where the House and Senate are on equal footing with the Executive branch,” he said.
Gazelka said the governor could end up having “emergency powers for a year,” which would require at least four more special sessions before the end of 2020.
Republicans in the House have attempted to pass similar resolutions, including another one Wednesday, but the idea of canceling Walz’s emergency declaration has received minimal support from DFL lawmakers, who control the House.
“We have seen an emergence of dictatorial powers coming from the governor’s office and his staff,” said Sen. Scott Jensen, R-Chanhassen. “His staff doesn’t have election certificates. We do. As such, Democrats and Republicans in the House and the Senate are hearing from their constituents that we are elected to lead and Minnesotans expect us to do so.”