GOP lawmaker: Expect limits on large public events like concerts, ballgames

Gov. Tim Walz has broad powers under the state's emergency managment statute.

A Republican lawmaker said Minnesotans should expect significant changes in their daily lives in the coming weeks and months due to the coming outbreak of novel coronavirus, including limits on large public events like games and concerts. 

“When we reach that point — and we will reach that point — Minnesota will know it’s being done for the right reasons,” Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said in an interview Wednesday. 

The Seattle Times reported Tuesday night that Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is banning events that involve more than 250 people, a move Garofalo endorsed and said is likely coming to Minnesota.  

A leading Republican’s endorsement of extraordinary measures like cancelling major public events is a signal that Gov. Tim Walz will receive at least some support from the opposition party should he move forward with emergency measures. 

Minnesota statutes grant broad powers to the governor in the case of an emergency, including “direction or control” of “the conduct of persons in the state, including entrance or exit from any stricken or threatened public place,” as well as “public meetings or gatherings.”  

A spokesman for Walz said Wednesday that counsel has advised the administration that the first-term DFL governor has legal authority to declare a state of emergency because the coronavirus is considered a natural disaster. He has not yet done so, however. 

Garofalo said the question of Walz’s legal authority to restrict public events is beside the point. 

“If he gets up and requests that people who hold events of those size no longer hold them, my expectation would be that people honor that request,” said Garofalo, who already postponed a planned town hall in his district. “The leader of our state says he’s talked to the experts. They say it’s critical. And I’m asking organizations to do this. I think that’s appropriate. It doesn’t require a change in the law.”

The Legislature quickly passed a $21 million infusion of cash to deal with the crisis this week, which Walz signed Tuesday. The state has three confirmed cases but more are expected given broader testing and the rapid spread of the virus. 

Garofalo added, “In the long run, we’re going to be fine. But in the short term, there’s going to be difficult choices. But they’re for the right reasons.” 

This story is developing.