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House panel hears bill to give Legislature say in COVID-19 response, but takes no vote

House Photography file photo
House Photography file photo

Gov. Tim Walz has used his executive powers for the better part of the past year to extend the COVID-19 peacetime emergency to help the state continue to quickly and effectively respond to the pandemic.

In most instances, it was met with support by DFLers, while Republicans expressed a desire to have more say in the state’s response.

Nothing was settled Friday by the House Subcommittee on Legislative Process Reform.

Rep. Gene Pelowski, Jr. (DFL-Winona), the subcommittee chair, said more bills are forthcoming and his goal is to create something that would have a harmony of the group moving forward.

House Subcommittee on Legislative Process Reform 02/05/21

“I’m still in the process, and the subcommittee is still in the process, of collecting information and trying to put together something that we can have go through (the rules committee) and to whichever other committee it might have to go through or to the floor,” Pelowski said, adding that the timetable is fluid.

The first bill offered comes from Rep. Barb Haley (R-Red Wing). HF371, as amended, would provide that COVID-19 executive orders expire unless ratified by the Legislature.

Under the proposal, amended with an amendment to the amendment, any order filed with the Office of the Secretary of State by Feb. 27, 2021 would terminate March 13, 2021 without legislative approval. If filed after Feb. 27, 2021 the expiration date would be 14 days from the filing date.

“This brings the people of Minnesota back to the table,” she said. “… Our constituents are asking us to make a change. Frankly, they are begging and pleading with us each day as their lives are being so dramatically affected, and many lives, frankly, ruined, by some of these executive orders.”

Multiple DFL members noted the bill could allow either the DFL-controlled House or Republican-controlled Senate to invalidate an executive order simply by inaction.

Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) criticized people comfortable “sitting on the sidelines” and letting one person make all the decisions.

“These orders should not be indefinite and the Legislature should play an affirmative role in making sure that these things are validated; they don’t just go on in perpetuity; that we just don’t blindly follow Tim Walz off a cliff into educational and economic oblivion,” Garofalo said.

Rep. Dan Wolgamott (DFL-St. Cloud) said the ever-changing pandemic could create a life-or-death situation where the governor needs to act quickly. “I’m concerned about an arbitrary clock that could cost lives.”

Haley emphasized nothing would take away the governor’s power to act in a “split second,” but would simply involve a legislative affirmation.

Cait Larsen, who owns a lifestyle gym in Red Wing, likes the bill.

She said Haley visited her small business and others to learn how decisions by the Walz administration have impacted small-business owners and their clients, along with changes owners have made to keep customers safe.

“When she brings our feedback back to the Capitol and we see monologue vs. dialogue, I don’t feel that we’re allowing our representatives to do their jobs and be our voices,” Larsen said.

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