(The Center Square) – The Minnesota Senate has approved Senate File 4, which aims to require legislative approval to extend a peacetime emergency.
On a 38-29 party-line vote Monday, the state’s two independent lawmakers joined Republicans, who claim Gov. Tim Walz’s emergency powers throw off the balance of power between the three branches of government.
A year into the COVID-19 pandemic and under emergency orders, Republicans argue the COVID-19 has subsided and no longer requires Walz to hold pandemic powers.
The bill seeks to require the executive branch to obtain a majority legislative approval in each chamber to extend any emergency declaration beyond 30 days. The legislation wouldn’t impede on the governor’s ability to declare an emergency.
Under the bill, the governor would have to give three days’ notice to each of the majority and minority leaders if that person intends to extend a peacetime emergency when the legislature is out of session.
The bill would prohibit the governor from canceling an emergency order and issuing a new declaration for the same emergency to avoid the legislature’s approval.
Sen. David Osmek, R-Mound, said the would bill make the Legislature an active partner in the process instead of a passive one, as lawmakers currently only vote whether to end pandemic powers or not.
The powers authorized Walz to unilaterally enact far-reaching rules, including threatening jail time for extended families gathering in private homes during the holidays and ordering “nonessential” businesses to close.
Lawmakers said 295 people had been charged with a misdemeanor charge under Walz’s edicts.
The emergency was acute during the first few months of COVID-19, but a year later, it has subsided, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said in a morning news conference.
“The legislative branch didn’t have equal power with the governor, and as a result of that, I feel some of the decisions the governor made were not the best they could have been,” Gazelka said.
Gazelka claimed the powers have eroded trust between lawmakers and the governor.
“In the beginning, emergency powers made sense to help us flatten the curve, stand up supply chains, and prepare our hospitals and clinics for a potential surge. And Governor Walz worked with the legislature to explain the need and purpose for each decision,” Gazelka said in a statement. “However, with the balance of power shifted to the executive, the trust needed to work together has completely eroded.”
Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, argued the Legislature, by design, doesn’t act quickly.
“We’re not built to be an expeditious body,” Kent said in a floor speech. “We’re not built to make quick responses, which is exactly what’s called for in times of an emergency. Hence the need for the executive branch.”
The bill would have to pass the DFL-dominated House and be signed into law by Walz to be enacted.
According to the National Council on State Legislatures, at least 25 states are considering measures to limit rarely-used executive powers harnessed during the COVID-19 pandemic.