ST. PAUL — Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and members of the Executive Council on Wednesday, Jan. 13, voted to extend the state's peacetime emergency for another 30 days, allowing the governor to continue his expanded emergency powers and the state to swiftly set in place protections against the coronavirus without legislative approval.
The five-person Executive Council on Wednesday morning agreed unanimously to allow the peacetime emergency, citing concerns about a new, more easily transmissible strain of COVID-19 in the state and noting that while vaccines are rolling out, their distribution is not yet widespread enough to allay concerns about disease spread.
Forty-nine states and the federal government have in place similar peacetime emergencies. The emergency declarations allow the state to have more flexibility in its response to the pandemic.
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And in Minnesota, the peacetime emergency has allowed the state to quickly scale up testing capacity, activate the Minnesota National Guard and place an eviction on moratoriums since it was first put in place in March. Walz has also been able to require Minnesotans to stay at home except for when performing essential tasks and temporarily shut down sectors of the economy and social gatherings.
"Yesterday was the deadliest day of the coronavirus since the beginning of this. We are, in Minnesota, in a slightly better position but as a nation, we are in the grips of the worst public health pandemic our nation has ever seen and it is not abating at this time," Walz said. "The need to address it with a coherent strategy is more apparent now than ever."
As of Wednesday, the Minnesota Department of Health reported that 5,774 Minnesotans had died from the illness and its complications since the pandemic took hold in the state and 440,354 had tested positive for COVID-19. The state's reported deaths, hospitalizations and new cases have come down from their peak in November and the case positivity rate crept down to near 5% this week after hitting nearly 15% in mid-November.
Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said conditions in Minnesota remain "very fragile and volatile" despite improvements and warned that numbers could again creep up with restaurants, bars, gyms and other indoor businesses set to reopen at limited capacity.
With the Legislature back in regular session, the governor can skip putting the extension up for a possible veto in the statehouse. But lawmakers could end the peacetime emergency at any time if majorities in both chambers voted to block another month. So far, they've failed to meet that threshold.
State lawmakers are set to weigh how to end the state's peacetime emergency in the coming weeks and GOP legislators on Monday, Jan. 11, pushed back on Walz's framework for placing in law protections under executive orders that he has put in place.
The governor in a letter to legislative leaders urged them to set in statute a mask mandate, protections for workers and for consumers, an eviction moratorium, continued flexibility for school districts and safety standards for businesses operating during the pandemic if the state's peacetime emergency is to lapse.
Republicans, along with a handful of Democrats and Independents, in both legislative chambers have repeatedly voted to end the peacetime emergency, saying they should be more involved in pandemic response. The most recent effort to discontinue the state of emergency failed to gain the votes necessary to be considered in the DFL-led House of Representatives on Monday.