Minnesota contact tracing effort hits legislative roadblock

Minnesota health officials' plan to have 4,200 investigators tracing the contacts of people who test positive for coronavirus ran into a legislative roadblock Tuesday.

The Senate Health and Human Services committee delayed a vote after Republicans pushed back on the proposal, citing concerns over privacy rights and the cost, which the House has estimated at $300 million.

GOP senators are proposing a "bill of rights" that would let people refuse to participate in testing or contact tracing.

"No employer shall terminate or retaliate against an employee who refuses to consent to COVID-19 testing or refuses to participate in contact tracing if the employee has tested positive for COVID-19," reads the amendment from state Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka.
After someone tests positive, a contact tracer would work to identify where the person has been and who he or she has come into contact with. It represents Minnesota's next phase in the antivirus effort.

The state Health Department has a few hundred contact tracers now, up from 20 when the coronavirus outbreak began.
Abeler's proposal led to intense debate, which led to the decision to delay the vote.
A contact tracing bill is moving more quickly through the House, where Democrats in control of the chamber expect most or all of the $300 million cost to be paid by the federal government.

The Walz administration has broad authority to spend federal coronavirus-related funding without legislative approval, adding another layer of uncertainty to the legislative divide.