Legislative Update: March 10, 2020

Minnesota State updates Senate committee on efforts surrounding COVID-19

Minnesota State Chancellor Devinder Malhotra spoke with the Senate Higher Education Finance and Policy Committee members earlier today regarding the system’s efforts surrounding COVID-19, sharing that Minnesota State’s top priority is protecting the health and safety of the system’s faculty, students, and staff.

Regarding direct actions taken so far, Malhotra said, “Out of an abundance of caution, I suspended all school and business-related international travel for the 37 colleges and universities that make up Minnesota State. Campus leaders have been directed to mitigate the cost attributed to the suspension of international travel and we’re working to ease the impact of this decision on our students.”    

Malhotra told members that constant communication is extremely important, and he explained that he has asked Interim Vice Chancellor Bill Maki to lead and serve as the system’s point person on the COVID-19 outbreak, and that Associate Vice Chancellor Brian Yolitz, who oversees all facilities, is responsible for Minnesota State’s emergency preparedness, strategies, and their implementation.  

Vice Chancellor Maki explained that the Minnesota State system initiated an emergency management protocol in late February in order to consistently and uniformly communicate with the colleges and universities. “Each one of our 30 college and university presidents appointed a COVID-19 primary contact. We communicate through that channel with our colleges and universities on a regular schedule and to ensure we have consistency in our responses to our stakeholders. As Chancellor Malhotra stressed, protecting the health and safety of our faculty, students, and staff is our top priority. We also are working diligently to minimize the impact to our students in their educational pursuits and to mitigate the financial impact to them,” Maki said.

Associate Vice Chancellor Yolitz explained to the committee that the Board of Trustees, acting on state and federal direction and guidance, adopted a policy (Board Policy 5.24 Safety and Security Compliance) to address campus safety, security and emergency management. “Among many things, this policy calls for each college and university and the system office to create plans, programs, procedures, and training to promote the safety and security of students, faculty, staff, and those in the campus community, and if required, effectively respond to emergency situations,” Yolitz said. Yolitz explained that this includes the development and implementation of individual emergency operations plans, and that Minnesota State has created standard templates for each of these plans based on and consistent with the National Incident Management System (NIMS).

Also in response to COVID-19, the House and Senate unanimously approved a bill on Monday that approves the transfer of $20.9 million to a public health emergency account that already has $4.6 million. Governor Tim Walz signed the bill into law earlier today. The $20.9 million in additional funding is expected to cover staffing and laboratory costs, personal protective equipment, and support for local public health and health care coalitions, all of which is tied to the state’s public health response to COVID-19.

There are other bills that address the risk of COVID-19 that are making their way through the committee process. These include creating a revolving loan fund to help providers cover COVID-19-related costs; clarifying the governor’s ability to declare a state of emergency during peacetime; addressing what would happen if schools need to close to limit the spread of the virus; and providing some economic assistance through the Department of Employment and Economic Development to ensure employees without paid sick time can actually stay home when sick.

Governor Tim Walzis expected to release his supplemental budget later this week. Many believe Walz will scale back his budget recommendations due to the economic impact of the Coronavirus and the downward trend of financial markets. Minnesota Management and Budget announced today that for the month of February, Minnesota’s net general fund revenues totaled $1.011 billion, which is $41 million less than was forecast in February.

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