House lawmakers maintain social distance while voting on hospital funding bill amid COVID-19 outbreak

House members are sitting six feet apart on Monday as they work to pass a second bill related to the ongoing outbreak of COVID-19. (FOX 9)

Minnesota legislative leaders announced the Legislature are going to pass a second bill related to the outbreak of COVID-19 Monday, extending funding to hospitals. 

The hospital funding bill is not finalized, but House and Senate leaders are hoping for a deal in time to pass a bill by early Monday evening. Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said the hospitals have asked for $100 million in funding.

After passing the bill, they will take a month-long break from the Minnesota State Capitol until at least April 14, although Gazelka and House Speaker Melissa Hortman can call lawmakers back to the Capitol before April 14 if they need to pass emergency legislation.

At a joint press conference Monday, Gazelka called it an “unprecedented” step for the Legislature to leave the Capitol, but said it will be safer for everyone. 

“It is not possible for us” to continue at the Capitol while observing public health guidelines, Melissa Hortman said. She said only half of House members can be seated on the House floor because of the Centers for Disease Control’s social distancing guidance. 

On the House floor on Monday, lawmakers were sitting in every other seat in an effort to socially distance themselves per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Some members were made to sit in the gallery to ensure everyone could be 6 feet apart. 

he scene in the House gallery, where lawmakers are sitting in chairs marked “A” that are six feet apart. Lawmakers in these seats will vote today by “thumbs up, thumbs down” because there are not electronic buttons in the gallery. (Theo Keith/FOX 9 / FOX 9)

Gazelka and Hortman can call lawmakers back to the Capitol before April 14 if they need to pass emergency legislation. 

Lawmakers will work on three different kinds of legislation over the month-long break: coronavirus legislation, mission critical legislation such as the bonding bill, and bills unrelated to coronavirus that have bipartisan agreement. 

During the break, legislators and staff will still be available to work and meet with constituents, Gazelka said. The Capitol and other office buildings will be effectively closed to the public, but lawmakers will still be able to hold meetings by appointment while adhering to the CDC’s social distancing guidelines.