State and Federal Legislative Update: March 18, 2020

State Legislative Update

Governor’s State of the State update

Governor Tim Walz sent a letter to House of Representatives Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, today announcing that he will no longer be giving his State of the State address in person.

From Gov. Walz’s communication: “Given recent developments in the state, I am rescinding my request to address a joint meeting of the 91st State Legislature on Monday, March 23, 2020 at 7:00 pm. in the House Chamber at the Capitol. I will instead televise my address to the Legislature and the State of Minnesota on a future date.”

COVID-19 updates from Minnesota State

At today’s Minnesota State Board of Trustees meeting, Chancellor Devinder Malhotra spoke about the latest update regarding COVID-19 and how Minnesota State is responding to this pandemic crisis.

After walking through steps Minnesota State has taken so far, Chancellor Malhotra said, “None of these have been easy decisions, and not one decision was made lightly without thinking about the impact on our students, faculty, and staff, and our campus leaders.”

The Chancellor explained that two organizing principles have guided this work. The first is acting as a system. “The gravity of this situation, the torrent of information, and the growing health crisis requires we act with a unified voice and action plan with flexibility to the campuses to deal with their local compulsions,” Malhota said. And secondly, Malhotra said, “We need to stay ahead of the curves based on the rapid changing information and guidance that is available to us from CDC, WHO, and MN Department of Health.”

Chancellor Malhotra’s comments and all information related to COVID-19, can be found at Minnesota State’s COVID-19 Information web site.

Governor signs Executive Order regarding state employees

Yesterday, Governor Walz signed Executive Order 20-07, providing paid leave for state employees who are not able to work for reasons related to COVID-19 and suspended the waiting period for insurance coverage for new employees. He also provided more flexibility for the Commissioner of Management and Budget to respond to the evolving COVID-19 situation.

Under the new policy, effective March 18, 2020, employees can use paid COVID-19 leave if they must be absent from work for reasons related to COVID-19 and cannot or are not allowed to telework. Certain employees who are assigned to provide critical services may require additional authorization before taking this leave, and should work with their supervisors.

Covered reasons include:

  • School or Day Care Closures if you cannot reasonably perform telework while also providing care for children 12 and under, or children over 12 with an ADA-covered disability
  • Health Purposes if you contract COVID-19 and are too ill to work, or a health care provider determines that your presence in the workplace will jeopardize your health or the health of others, or you have been exposed to a person with a confirmed COVID-19 case and you are exhibiting the symptoms of COVID-19
  • Family Caregiving if you must care for a family member with COVID-19
  • Isolation or Quarantine if you or someone you must care for is under legal isolation or legal quarantine or your employer directs you not to report to work for COVID-19 related reasons
  • Agency Closure if your workplace is closed for COVID-19-related health and safety reasons, and you are excused from your work duties and cannot be reassigned.

Federal Legislative Update

Senate approves second Coronavirus bill

This afternoon the U.S. Senate voted 90-8 to approve the House’s second coronavirus bill, which provides for free virus testing, requires paid leave from companies with fewer than 500 employees, and bolsters unemployment and food assistance and gives states billions of dollars in aid. President Trump is expected to promptly sign the bill into law.

The Senate agreed with an “overwhelming bipartisan vote” to the House-passed bill (H.R. 6201). A summary of H.R. 6201, as passed by the House on Saturday, March 14, can be found here. A summary of paid leave provisions, incorporating changes made by technical correction, can be found here.

The centerpiece of the bill gives workers at companies with fewer than 500 employees up to 12 weeks of paid family and sick leave to deal with issues involving the coronavirus, including staying home to care for children home from school. The tax credits for paid family, sick and medical leave in the virus bill will cost nearly $104.9 billion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

Senate Leader Mitch McConnell said the Senate will immediately turn to a bigger stimulus package, saying “I will not adjourn the Senate until we have passed a far bolder package that includes significant relief for small businesses,” as the outbreak has the U.S. teetering on the brink of recession.

Round three Coronavirus legislation discussions begin

Senate Leader McConnell vowed to keep the upper chamber in session until a “major” coronavirus response had passed, as lawmakers in both parties expressed alarm at the near-empty airplanes that returned them to Washington this week.

Treasury Secretary Steven Terner Mnuchin assembled a $1.2 trillion plan over a series of phone calls with lawmakers that stretched from Monday evening into Tuesday morning. A link to the Treasury’s current stage three proposal can be found here. The sheer size of the proposal and the whirlwind speed at which it appeared took some senators aback. At the White House, there was a feeling the time had come for a new approach.

Leader McConnell said that Senate Republicans will work with the Trump Administration on their own version of a third coronavirus bill. They hope to “reach an agreement among ourselves as to what Senate Republicans and the administration favor doing next,” before negotiating with Democrats on a final version that could become law. The quick timeline comes as the task forces set up by Leader McConnell to craft the bill are expected to turn over their work by Thursday, a first step to an eventual vote.

Some Republican Senators have rallied around Senator Mitt Romney’s (R-UT) proposal to send $1,000 to every American. That proposal was bolstered when Treasury Secretary Mnuchin said the administration also favors sending out checks.

Senate Democrats unveil their round three proposal

Senate Democrats yesterday unveiled a $750 billion proposal aimed at buying a “surge” of equipment that’s needed to combat the coronavirus pandemic and bolster the social safety net.

Included in the legislation introduced by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) is $400 billion of emergency appropriations to boost the number of hospitals beds in the U.S., expand the availability of medical supplies, and to “ensure affordable care” for people with Covid-19.

Democrats are also discussing again increasing the federal share of Medicaid spending, a move economists say is helpful in recessions as people lose their jobs. Leader Schumer said “we are going to need massive investments to ensure we have the capacity and necessary infrastructure to treat all Americans that need it.”

Speaker Pelosi requests fed explore direct assistance to state and local governments

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke with Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell to discuss the response to economic impact of coronavirus. On the call, the Speaker said she urged the central bank Chairman to “explore ways to use the Fed’s authority to assist state and local governments.”

The head of the House of Representatives Financial Services Committee that oversees the central bank agrees. Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-CA) said on Monday the Fed should get creative in its response to the economic threat posed by the coronavirus outbreak and consider extending financial support to state and local governments.

Minnesota Congressional Delegation open letter

Yesterday the Minnesota Congressional Delegation sent an open letter to the people of Minnesota regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. See the letter below:

Dear Minnesotans,

As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic continues to unfold, we – the Minnesota Congressional Delegation – would like to speak to all Minnesotans with one unified voice. Over the past few weeks, we have watched as this crisis has grown exponentially. So much has changed quickly, and many Americans are wondering where to find information they can trust to keep themselves and their loved ones safe. We know many families are facing anxiety and fear – and that is why we have decided to write to you together.

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is a rare event that is reshaping our society. We all need to follow the recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Minnesota Department of Health; additionally, the President has called for Americans to avoid being in groups of more than ten people. We know that by working together and using best practices like social distancing, we can help to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19. This must be our first priority. To be clear: Regardless of your age or health, we all have a responsibility to follow these guidelines to protect our loved ones and neighbors.

The rapidly changing nature of this pandemic means we all need to stay informed and communicate with each other. Misinformation – through the use of scare tactics or by underplaying the severity of the situation – only serves to hurt our collective response to this crisis. We encourage all Minnesotans to stay informed as well. See below for helpful resources.

We extend our sincere gratitude and thanks to all of the doctors, nurses, hospital staff and the Minnesota Hospital Association, first responders, and countless other frontline health workers who are working tirelessly to keep us all safe. We will continue to work with you and collaborate with federal agencies, the Governor’s Office, local and Tribal governments, as well as the medical community to ensure you have the resources needed to combat this pandemic and care for your patients.

These are unprecedented times, and more changes are likely in the days and weeks ahead as we take on COVID-19. But as our nation has shown countless times before, no challenge is too great for America to overcome. We will get through this too – together.

Sincerely,

Sen. Amy Klobuchar            

Sen. Tina Smith

Rep. Collin C. Peterson (MN-07)  

Rep. Betty McCollum (MN-04)

Rep. Tom Emmer (MN-06)      

Rep. Angie Craig (MN-02) 

Rep. Jim Hagedorn (MN-01)     

Rep. Ilhan Omar (MN-05)

Rep. Dean Phillips (MN-03)      

Rep. Pete Stauber (MN-08) 

Resources: For the latest information and updates, please visit www.health.state.mn.us. The Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) has created a COVID-19 hotline for questions about the outbreak: 651-201-3920. There is also a state hotline for school and child care questions: 651-297-1304.

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