MOUNTAIN LAKE — It remains to be seen if state legislators will gather again this summer for another special session, but Worthington’s representative in the Minnesota House hopes some definitive plans are in place if that’s the case.
District 22B Rep. Rod Hamilton, R-Mountain Lake, explained earlier this week that Walz must call back legislators by July 12 if he wants to extend the state’s peacetime emergency that has been declared as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Hamilton said Walz must call lawmakers every 30 days in order to extend the emergency.
Hamilton is hopeful that should Walz beckon legislators for a new special session, that agreements already be in place beforehand so that time isn’t wasted. During the special legislative session that adjourned June 19, there were stalemates on three critical issues — a bonding bill, potential criminal justice reform in the wake of George Floyd’s death and CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security) Act funding — that flummoxed lawmakers and constituents alike.
Hamilton said that when it comes to a bonding bill, he pointed out that the dispute isn’t so much about the dollar amount or the projects involved. He said House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, previously indicated that the legislature would not be passing a bonding bill while the governor’s emergency powers remain in effect.
“One size doesn’t fit at all across the state of Minnesota,” Hamilton said of the ongoing emergency. “It’s very different in a lot of Greater Minnesota than the metro. We (Republicans) believe in re-establishing the equal branches of government so that we, the elected officials, can weigh in on some of the decision-making as well.”
Hamilton argued that the extended closure of businesses in many parts of the state has been devastating and could have been avoided.
“When businesses close, particularly in rural Minnesota, the chances of them reopening are slim to none,” he said. “We could have safely re-opened … while safeguarding employees and customers and protecting the most vulnerable.”
If a bonding bill is ultimately passed this summer, Hamilton feels confident that money for Worthington’s W.E.L.L. (Welcome, Education, Library, Livability) project — as well as funds for an Ellsworth municipal building and the Red Rock and Lincoln-Pipestone rural water systems — will be part of the package, as he said language for each is in the House proposal.
Hamilton noted that the Senate, by a 62-4 margin, passed $841 million in CARES Act funding to be distributed across the state’s counties and cities.
“There was a bipartisan, bicameral agreement for this,” Hamilton said. Cottonwood County was slated to receive about $1.4 million, Jackson County $1.2 million and Nobles County $2.7 million, he added, while the city of Worthington was set to get slightly more than $1 million.
The CARES Act funding, though, failed to advance through the House.
“The governor weighed in on this … and convinced the House majority to put in his supplemental spending proposals and attach that to the CARE funds,” he explained. “That killed it in the House. … A deal is a deal, and you don’t put additional language in that. To bring this up as an amendment and attach it to something that was already agreed upon … it rubbed us the wrong way.”
Despite the standstill on this issue during the special session, the CARES money will still be distributed in its original amounts, which were determined by population. Walz utilized his executive power Thursday to allocate all of the funding
The Senate and House each passed their own measures, but Hamilton said “neither side was really willing to move to a point where they would come to an agreement.”
On June 19, the House passed an extensive package of police accountability measures wrapped into one bill that included elements of five more modest policing bills that the Republican-controlled Senate passed earlier in that week. However, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported, it was to have made bigger changes than what Senate Republicans had said they would accept.