Governor Walz announced an agreement with the University of Minnesota and the Mayo Clinic to expand the state’s ability to test for COVID-19. The agreement is intended to significantly expand testing capacity and the coordination of testing, with $36 million in initial funding authorized by Governor Walz. Governor Walz also announced new executive orders extending school closures through the remainder of the current school year, while also allowing additional businesses to open beginning Monday, April 27.
Under Senate Concurrent Resolution 7, the Senate met in floor sessions twice this week. The Minnesota House of Representatives chose not to hold floor sessions this week. Both bodies held virtual committee hearings over a range of issues, from the state’s COVID-19 testing capacity to emergency housing assistance.
State budget uncertainty remains, and the U.S. economy has seen a rapid downturn. Minnesota Management and Budget (MMB) is expected to release updated budget figures the week of May 4. This economic update will significantly impact proposals moving through the committee process and the remainder of the 2020 legislative session.
Governor Walz Announces Agreement With Health Care Providers
During a press conference on April 22, Governor Walz and leaders from the University of Minnesota, the Mayo Clinic and the Minnesota Department of Health announced a joint effort to significantly expand COVID-19 testing capacity in Minnesota. The partnership will be funded by $36 million from the COVID-19 Minnesota Fund established by the legislature in March.
Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm stated that this partnership will allow Minnesota care providers to test all patients with symptoms of COVID-19, which has not been possible up to this point. The initiative will create a virtual command center to direct resources and fully utilize existing lab facilities throughout the state. The U of M and Mayo will provide a centralized laboratory to test samples collected from care providers across the state.
Governor Walz referred to this announcement as “phase 1” of expanding testing in Minnesota and suggested that future phases may see the legislature authorize additional funding, particularly as the state receives federal funds through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act that may be used to expand testing. The Governor also stated this expanded testing capacity will “absolutely factor in” when considering the need to extend Minnesota’s stay-at-home order and closures of bars and restaurants.
Schools Will Remain Closed, Additional Business Will Open
Governor Walz announced two additional executive orders on April 23. Executive Order 20-41 extends closures of brick and mortar schools, first authorized under Executive Order 20-02 and Executive Order 20-19, until the end of the 2019/2020 school year. Minnesota schools will continue distance learning and providing meals to students that receive food support. Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker stated MDE is developing considering multiple scenarios and plans for the 2020-21 school year.
Executive Order 20-40 allows additional businesses to open in specific economic sectors and under certain conditions. Industrial and manufacturing businesses and office settings will be allowed to open beginning Monday, April 27. Customer-facing, non-essential businesses must remain closed. Those businesses allowed to open under the new order must create a COVID-19 Preparedness Plan, which includes: requiring work from home whenever possible, ensuring that sick workers stay home, and establishing policies and procedures, including health screenings to prevent sick workers from entering the workplace.
Guidance on Executive Order 20-40 from the Minnesota Department of Employment and Economic Development can be found here. In addition, the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry has created a template COVID-19 Preparedness Plan.
Legislators Debate HAVA Funds
HF 3499, authored by Rep. Michael Nelson (DFL-Brooklyn Park), would transfer over $7 million in federal funding from the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) to the Minnesota Secretary of State. The bill is designed to consider the COVID-19 outbreak during planning for safe and secure elections. The Secretary of State is authorized to use the HAVA funding to modernize and secure the state voter registration system, improve accessibility, train local election officials and improve the security of elections. Provisions in HF 3499 also would provide greater local authority to designate polling places after the statutory deadline and to extend the period that absentee ballots are processed.
HF 3499 passed the House State Government Committee and was referred to Ways and Means. The Senate companion, SF3548 authored by Sen. Ann Rest (DFL-New Hope), is awaiting a hearing in the Senate State Government Finance and Policy and Elections Committee.
Emergency Housing Assistance Legislation Passes House Housing Finance Committee
HF 4541, authored by Rep. Alice Hausman (DFL-St. Paul), would appropriate $100 million to the Minnesota Housing Finance Agency to administer grants through the newly established Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance program. The bill is designed to support households struggling to afford rent, especially given high levels of unemployment for hourly and service industry workers during closures of bars, restaurants and places of public amusement in Minnesota. House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-Brooklyn Park) stated her support for the measure.
HF 4541 also includes provisions similar to Executive Order 20-14, which was issued by Governor Walz on March 23. The Executive Order states these provisions prevent housing foreclosures and evictions during the COVID-19 peacetime emergency to ensure stable housing for Minnesotans. HF 4541 passed the House Housing Finance Committee on Wednesday, April 22 and was referred to the House Committee on Ways and Means
SF 4495, authored by Rep. Torrey Westrom (R- Elbow Lake), contains similar provisions preventing foreclosures and evictions during the COVID-19 outbreak. The bill contains $30 million in funding for the Family Homeless Prevention and Assistance program. SF 4495 was heard in the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Rural Development and Housing Finance on April 22 and laid over for further consideration.
Full List of Executive Orders
In total, Governor Walz has now issued 41 executive orders in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Key executive orders, and orders issued within the past 7 days are listed below. The full list of executive orders can be found here.
- May 15-16: GOP State Convention
- May 18: Legislature Adjourns
- May 30-31: DFL State Convention
- June 2: Candidate Filing Deadline for 2020 Election
- August 11: Primary Election Day
- November 3: General Election Day