Minnesota Legislative Update: COVID-19 Emergency Measures

Faegre Drinker Biddle & Reath LLP

The Minnesota Legislature has suspended normal business operations to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to recessing, the House and Senate met at the Capitol into the early morning hours on March 17 to pass $200 million in support for care providers to combat COVID-19. Governor Walz signed the COVID-19 and Rural Finance Authority (RFA) funding on Tuesday, March 17, 2020.

Prior to adjourning, both bodies also passed a joint resolution to recess until April 14, to comply with Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines against large gatherings. Leaders in the House and Senate stated they will continue to work and will reconvene before April 14 if there is agreement requiring immediate action.

Friday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, at President Trump’s direction, extended the federal tax filing deadline from April 15 to July 15. Extending the Minnesota state filing deadline requires legislative action.

Legislature Reconvening Before April 14

During a March 18 press conference, Governor Walz commented that he expects there to be state agency requests that require legislative action within the coming days. His administration has been holding meetings and communicating with House and Senate leadership regarding a range of economic measures, including temporarily expanding paid leave, regulatory relief for disability service providers and small business relief.

On March 19, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) released a statement that the Senate would soon resume limited committee hearings to work on behalf of Minnesotans to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak. Senator Gazelka also expressed concerns over Governor Walz’s unilateral actions in response to the COVID-19 outbreak, specifically in temporarily loosening regulations surrounding Minnesota’s unemployment insurance program.

It appeared the legislature planned to reconvene on Friday to address agency requests, but that is delayed until further notice.

On Wednesday, it became known that a House employee has tested positive for COVID-19. The State Office Building, which houses all 134 members of the House, has since been closed.

COVID-19 Funding

Following lengthy negotiations with the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) and representatives from the Minnesota Hospitals Association, the House and Senate voted unanimously to pass S.F. 4334 to provide $200 million in emergency funding for hospitals and other care providers in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

S.F. 4334, authored by Sen. Michelle Benson (R- Ham Lake) and Rep. Tina Liebling (DFL-Rochester), appropriates $50 million to the state’s health response contingency account designated to allow quick funding needs. The other $150 million is appropriated to a health care response fund to be distributed as grants more gradually as the MDH works with care providers across the state to assess needs. Grants could only be appropriated if providers do not bill uninsured patients regarding screening, testing or treatment of COVID-19. These provisions would remain in effect until Feb. 1, 2021.

Governor’s Executive Actions — COVID-19

On Thursday, Governor Walz announced Executive Order 20-09 which requires all elective surgeries and procedures, including dental care, to be postponed indefinitely. This action is meant to decrease patient-provider contacts to reduce the spread of COVID-19, and to potentially allow equipment including ventilators and personal protective equipment used in elective procedures to be used in emergency response to COVID-19 and other life-threatening situations.

Elective surgeries and procedures are defined as any procedure that can be delayed without risk to a patient’s life, risk of metastasis or progression of staging, or potential loss of function to an extremity or organ. This executive order goes into effect at 5 p.m. on March 23 for the duration of the peacetime emergency under Executive Order 20-01.

On Friday, Governor Walz issued Executive Order 20-10, 20-11 and 20-12, which combat price gouging, secure federal authority to continue human services programs, and preserve access to human service programs, respectively. Executive Order 20-10 prohibits all persons from selling, offering to sell or causing to sell any essential consumer goods or services for an amount that represents an unconscionably excessive price. Under Executive Order 20-11, the commissioner of the Department of Human Services can seek federal authority to change or waive all federal requirements applicable to its programs or services.

In total, Governor Walz has issued 12 executive orders in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. He has stated that other options, including ordering the closure of all non-essential retail or other more stringent isolation policies, may be considered if necessary.

Below are the Executive Orders issued by Governor Walz:

The Minnesota Department of Health has created a page with the most recent guidance, updates and resources related to COVID-19, which can be found here.

Organizations Asking for Relief

The Minnesota Chamber of Commerce called for extended deadlines to pay income, property and sales taxes, which largely reflect actions taken by the federal government, and to be able to apply for Small Business Administration (SBA) loans.

The Minnesota Department of Revenue has announced plans to give a 30-day grace period to businesses for payment of March and April sales and use taxes. Commissioner of the Department of Employee and Economic Development Steve Grove said Minnesota has finished filing all requirements to receive access to SBA loans.

Rural Finance Authority

Most business at the legislature not related to COVID-19 has been put on hold. However, Governor Walz was able to sign HF 2959, chief authored by Rep. Jean Poppe (DFL-Austin) in the House and Senator Torrey Westrom (R-Elbow Lake) in the Senate, which provides $50 million in funding to the Rural Finance Authority (RFA).

Funding will be distributed in low-cost loans through the Disaster Recovery Loan Program to repair existing agricultural buildings and assist farmers with expenses not covered by insurance. On March 19, the Rural Finance Authority Board made a disaster declaration to make loans available.

Important Dates

  • March 17- April 14: Legislative Recess (with option for reconvening as needed)
  • 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: Election Day

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

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