The State and Local Government Committee passed two pieces of legislation this week that would significantly limit Governor Walz’s ability to use his executive authority during the pandemic. In some instances, state agencies’ ability to enforce the Governor’s current executive orders would also be limited.
Currently, governors have the authority to declare a peacetime emergency for up to 30 days and may extend it every 30 days thereafter. The Legislature is not required to approve the extensions, but legislators do have the authority to terminate the emergency authority by majority vote of both chambers. When the Legislature is not in session, the governor is required to call a special session to provide an opportunity for this rejection to occur.
One of the bills passed would limit the ability of the governor to extend a peacetime emergency beyond 30 days without explicit legislative authorization. A majority vote of both bodies would be required to extend a peacetime emergency for up to 30 days. The bill would make it possible for Senate Republicans to roll back the executive orders Governor Walz currently has issued.
Governor Walz has written on several occasions to legislative leaders that he desires to back off using his executive orders and return to regular order if Senate Republicans agree to provide some basic protections in statute for Minnesotans during the pandemic. The things he would like to see enacted during the pandemic include legislation providing for face coverings in certain spaces, protecting Minnesotans against price gouging on essential products and services, and increased worker protections. At this time, Senate Republicans have not taken his recommendations seriously.
While these bills continue advancing in the Senate, the proposals’ prospects as written face significant challenges in the House. This legislation would hamstring the ability of the governor to keep Minnesotans safe during the pandemic and to make vaccine distribution decisions to quickly address evolving issues with the virus. Additionally, it is unlikely Governor Walz would sign the bill as written without his concerns being taken seriously.