Walz likely to extend peacetime emergency Wednesday

Top Minnesota lawmakers are expecting Gov. Tim Walz to extend his peacetime emergency powers to fight the coronavirus on Wednesday, the day they're currently set to expire.

By law, Walz has to extend his emergency declaration every 30 days to have the authority to close businesses, order people to shelter at home, and carry out dozens of other executive orders he's signed over the past two months. Lawmakers would have to formally vote to end the emergency, which is unlikely with a divided state Legislature.

Walz has not announced his plans on his most controversial executive action, the stay-home order, which is currently scheduled to expire Sunday night.

Tuesday morning, the nation's top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, warned of "suffering and death" if the economy is reopened too quickly. There will inevitably be increased cases even if the economy is allowed to reopen in stages, he said.

Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm said she agreed with Fauci that cases will increase as economic activity picks up.

"Our whole goal is that happens in a way that is measured and that the health care system is prepared to respond to," Malcolm told reporters.

Lawmakers from the House and Senate have long acknowledged that Walz is acting within his power. Democrats support the governor's moves

"We in the Minnesota House recognize what Minnesotans recognize, which is the governor and his administration are doing a phenomenal job managing this emergency," House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, told reporters Tuesday.

In the Republican-controlled Senate, where Walz's stay-home order is much less popular, GOP members again called on the governor to reopen the state.

"All they want to do is have a chance to open," state Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, said during a Senate floor debate Tuesday about businesses in his district. "They're in desperate straits now."

The Senate voted 59-7 to create a $60 million small business grant program, which would send up to $10,000 in cash to some small businesses who've been hurt by the pandemic. The businesses could use the money to make payroll or rent.

Also Tuesday, the House and Senate revived a fund used by the Walz administration to stockpile protective gear and buy a warehouse to temporarily store bodies amid the pandemic.

The fund, which has $36 million of the initial $200 million left, expired Monday, and Walz had called on lawmakers to act quickly. The new deadline to spend the money is Dec. 31.

Lawmakers did not put any additional money into the fund. Republicans favor increased legislative oversight of any new money.

It's one of several key unresolved issues with five days left in the legislative session. Lawmakers must also decide whether to ratify contracts for nearly 50,000 state workers, provide funding so the Health Department can increase contact tracing efforts, and decide how best to respond to the economic fallout from the pandemic.