Minnesota House blocks attempt to end coronavirus peacetime emergency

Minnesota House Democrats blocked two attempts Tuesday to end Gov. Tim Walz's peacetime emergency, allowing the stay-home order to remain in place.

Republicans twice pressed for a vote over the economic fallout of Walz's emergency order, which has left more than 428,000 out of work. But both efforts failed to gain the required two-thirds vote to move forward after an emotionally charged debate.

The tension reflects a growing partisan divide over Walz's attempts to slow the spread of the coronavirus, which has killed 79 Minnesotans to date. 

"I hope we do not reach the point that people will not believe this is serious until they find themselves lying on the ground choking on their own mucus," House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said during the debate.

Republicans said the governor's stay-home order, which runs at least until May 4, was killing people's livelihoods. But the GOP's efforts to stop it were unlikely to succeed because they hold just 59 of the 134 House seats.

"Many Minnesotans are becoming weary of this emergency right now," said state Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa.

In his own daily briefing with reporters, Walz acknowledged that people have grown tired of the stay-home order but argued that Minnesota needs to significantly increase its testing capacity.

"Everyone out there, me included -- I am sick of this. I want to get it done as quickly and smartly as we possibly can," Walz said. 

Unity between the parties has quickly evaporated. House Speaker Melissa Hortman said Winkler texted her Monday night that "bipartisanship is on a ventilator." Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said Democrats have "a lot of confidence" in Walz's decisions.

Despite the divide, lawmakers in both the House and Senate managed to overwhelmingly pass a fourth coronavirus relief measure and send it to Walz's desk.

The legislation gives financial help to uninsured people seeking testing, allows the health commissioner to set up temporary hospital, and lets people apply for marriage licenses online. But just as notable is what the bill does not include: 

•    No assistance for small businesses affected by forced closures, such as a delay in property tax payments
•    No help for renters who've lost jobs and are falling into debt with their landlords
•    No pay for hourly school workers who lost jobs when schools were forced to shut
•    No exemptions for restaurants looking to sell beer and wine with takeout food

The relief bill is significantly smaller than the three that preceded it. Those bills allocated a total of $551 million to public health officials, health care providers, small businesses and others affected by the virus.

Partisan rancor has roared back in recent days over Walz's handling of the crisis.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka announced that he opposes the stay-home order that Walz has extended until May 4, and has called on the governor to lay out plans to reopen the economy. 

GOP lawmakers have taken issue with modeling done by the state Health Department and University of Minnesota that predicts 22,000 Minnesotans will die even with social distancing measures in place. A Facebook group called "Reopen Minnesota" started by conservative activist David Strom on Monday quickly grew to more than 2,700 members by Tuesday morning. 

MONDAY: Minnesota governor extends peacetime emergency through May 13