State and Federal Legislative Update: April 9, 2020

State Legislative Update

On Tuesday, the Minnesota House of Representatives and the Minnesota Senate both passed HF 4537, a bill that addresses workers’ compensation claims for first responders, police officers, firefighters, and health care workers, including home health care workers, who contract COVID-19. The House passed the bill 130-4, and the Senate followed suit, passing the bill 67-0. It is expected that there will be follow-up legislation to this bill to address its funding needs.

Both the House and Senate have adjourned until Tuesday, April 14, 2020 absent any agreement to meet sooner.  Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said when the Senate returns on April 14, they will be returning to the “new normal,” and plan to meet every three days in session, while holding remote hearings.

The Legislature is observing the Passover and Easter break today and tomorrow, so there are no legislative committee meetings scheduled.  

Governor Walz was asked at today’s press conference what he would like to see from the Legislature in terms of spending and authority when they return next week. Walz responded that the cooperation with the Legislature has been amazing. He said the things they’re working on includes help for small business, as well as correctional facilities. He said all four caucuses in the House and Senate are working together with his administration to negotiate a package, which will likely be available closer to Tuesday.

Stay at Home order extended

Yesterday Governor Tim Walz extended the Stay Home Order until May 4. “What we are doing is working, Minnesota,” said Governor Walz. “We are taking this seriously, and we are staying home. While Minnesota is showing lower rates of infections than our peers across the country, now is not the time to let up or allow that trajectory to change. Updated federal guidance and our own public health experts are showing that if we keep staying home, we will save lives, which is why I made the data-driven decision to extend the Stay Home Order until May 4.”

Consistent with the extended Stay Home Order, Executive Order 20-33 also extends the closure of bars, restaurants, and other public accommodations through 11:59 pm on May 3, 2020 and outlines exemptions to the Stay Home Order, including exempted activities and critical sector workers.

Under the extended order, Minnesotans may leave their residences only to perform the following activities, and while doing so, they should practice social distancing:

  • Relocation to ensure safety, such as relocating to a different location if your home is unsafe due to domestic violence, sanitation, or reasons related to essential operations.
  • Health and safety activities, such as obtaining emergency services or medical supplies.
  • Outdoor activities, such as walking, hiking, running, biking, hunting, or fishing.
  • Necessary supplies and services, such as getting groceries, gasoline, or carry-out.
  • Essential intrastate and interstate travel, such as returning to a home from outside this state.
  • Care of others, such as caring for a family member, friend, or pet in another household.
  • Displacement, such as moving between emergency shelters if you are without a home.
  • Moving or relocation, such as moving to a new home or place of residence.
  • Voting, including all local and state elections.
  • Funerals, provided that no more than ten attendees are gathered and strict social distancing is enforced.
  • Tribal activities and lands, such as activities by members within the boundaries of their tribal reservation.

Tomorrow the Minnesota Department of Health and the University of Minnesota School of Public Health will provide an overview of Minnesota COVID-19 modeling for the media.

In response to the extension of the Governor’s Stay at Home order, Chancellor Devinder Malhotra released a statement:

The announcement today by Governor Walz continued the “stay at home” order under which our colleges and universities have been operating since March 25. Minnesota State Colleges and Universities appreciate the Governor’s leadership as well as the commitment he has shown to protecting the safety and health of all Minnesotans.

We should all be proud that during this challenging time, and due to the incredible effort, creativity, and innovative spirit of our faculty and staff, that more than 20,00 courses offered by our colleges and universities this spring semester have been migrated to alternative modes of instruction. It means that more than 95% of all courses are being delivered with no in-person component, and the remaining classes that require a face-to-face component will be completed when appropriate.

This is an amazing achievement that demonstrates how everyone within the Minnesota State system has remained ever-focused on our top two priorities during this pandemic; protecting the health and safety of our students, faculty, and staff, as well as helping our students to successfully coplete the semester.

I sincerely appreciate the great work and the leadership of our campus presidents and their teams who have stepped up on behalf of their students and their communities.

Insulin bill agreement reached

Yesterday a conference committee unanimously approved a compromise to create an emergency insulin assistance program to help diabetics struggling to keep up with the rising cost of insulin. The language calls for Minnesotans with less than a seven-day insulin supply and are unable to pay out-of-subscription costs of $75 or more, to pay no more than $35 to get a 30-day supply from a pharmacy.

Insulin manufacturers would also be required to provide patient assistance programs that offer a 90-day supply for no more than $50 to diabetics whose family income is less than 400 percent of federal poverty guidelines (about $51,000 for individuals or $104,800 for a family of four).

Rep. Michael Howard, DFL-Richfield, who sponsors the bill with Sen. Scott Jensen, R-Chaska, said the agreement is expected to be voted on Tuesday when the Legislature reconvenes.

Minnesota Senate COVID-19 Response Working Group continues to meet

Yesterday the Minnesota Senate held another bipartisan COVID-19 Response Working Group meeting, this time focusing on transportation related provisions in COVID-19 response bills. Topics of discussion included the extension of commercial driver’s license (CDL) registration deadlines, waiving background checks for seasonal CDLs, the impact of COVID-19 on the air industry, and public transportation safety measures. The Metropolitan Council has instituted reduced bus and light rail services, increased buses in certain lines to maintain 8-10 people per bus, regular bus cleanings, and cloth masks for all drivers. 

House Subcommittee on Elections holds information hearing

Yesterday the House Subcommittee on Elections met for an informational hearing regarding election procedures in response to COVID-19. Secretary of State Steve Simon laid out a proposed plan for all elections scheduled during or following the COVID-19 peacetime emergency. Updated procedures would involve conducting elections largely by mail, in conjunction with a reduced amount of polling places. All registered voters would receive a mail in ballot, while same day registration would still be in place for in-person polling.

Simon’s proposal also allows for the Office of the Secretary of State to consolidate or close high risk polling places and train healthcare providers in long term care facilities to facilitate absentee balloting. Voting administrators would be given more time to process mail ballots and nominating petitions for candidates could be signed electronically instead of the traditional door-to-door process. The measures would reduce in person contact to protect voters and election judges.

House Republicans expressed some objections to the plan. Their primary concerns included increased opportunity for election fraud due to mail-in ballots and lack of ballot security. As an alternative, House Republicans advocated for increased municipal polling places.

Federal Legislative Update

Senate in stalemate seeking quick additional relief funds

Senate Democrats blocked Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s attempt to quickly pass a $250 billion boost in aid to small businesses suffering revenue losses in the pandemic, likely delaying any action until leaders of both parties find a compromise. Leader McConnell had sought unanimous consent in the Senate this morning for the small business aid requested by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Monday may be the next chance to quickly approve more aid without objection, and lawmakers are not scheduled to return to Washington until the week of April 20.

Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are seeking to double the GOP’s $250 billion aid request for the economy, including adding federal aid for state and local governments and added funding for hospitals struggling to treat coronavirus patients. As part of his plea for urgency, McConnell cited Thursday’s report that showed an additional 6.6 million people filed for unemployment benefits last week, bringing the three week total to 16.8 million claims.

Secretary Mnuchin had asked Congress to approve by the end of the week an additional $250 billion for the program, bringing the total amount available to $600 billion. The only way to accomplish that with lawmakers out of town would be if no member of the House or Senate objected. There have been no negotiations between Republican and Democratic leaders on a compromise.

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Legislative Schedule

Monday, April 13

2:45 p.m.

House Ways and Means Committee

Room: Remote

Chair: Rep. Lyndon Carlson

Agenda:

Presentation by MMB Commissioner Myron Frans and State Economist Dr. Laura Kalambokidis

  • Quarterly Economic Outlook
  • Update on COVID-19 related federal funding

Documents associated with this hearing will be posted on the committee website.

This remote hearing may be viewed via the following methods:

1) Live stream via House website: https://www.house.leg.state.mn.us/live/1 

2) Facebook Live: https://www.facebook.com/MNHouseInfo/

3) YouTube: https://youtu.be/RpbRvaeDjdc

3:30 p.m.

Senate COVID-19 Response Working Group

Room: Remote

Chair: Senator Paul Gazleka

Agenda: TBA

Tuesday, April 14

12:00 p.m.

House in Session

Time TBASenate in Session

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