Minnesota House speaker looks to implement vaccination or test mandate for legislative staff

Senate may follow depending on U.S. Supreme Court ruling

By: - January 11, 2022 9:30 am

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, addresses reporters on Sep. 11, 2020, ahead of the start of a special legislative session. Photo by Ricardo Lopez/Minnesota Reformer

Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, told House members and staff on Monday she aims to require all House employees and interns to be vaccinated against COVID-19 or submit to weekly testing starting next month.

The proposed mandate, which would not apply to lawmakers, works off a state extension of President Joe Biden’s mandate through the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Biden’s mandate applies to all private employers with 100 or more workers; Minnesota OSHA expanded the rule to include public employers.

“The House has an obligation to comply with OSHA standards or face stiff penalties for noncompliance,” she wrote in a letter to House members and staff.

The Biden administration said it would begin enforcing the mandate on Jan. 11. It affects hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans, but the U.S. Supreme Court appears wary of the rule and could strike it down in the coming days.

Hortman said she will likely still try to pursue a vaccine-or-test mandate should that happen. If the Supreme Court upholds the rule, the Republican-controlled Senate would also be required to implement a vaccine-or-test mandate of its own.

In an email to Senate staff on Tuesday morning, Secretary of the Senate Cal Ludeman said he would distribute a plan to comply with the requirement within two weeks of a Supreme Court ruling.

“I want to emphasize that compliance must and will be accomplished in a manner that preserves and protects confidential personal information,” he wrote.

Hortman told House members and staff in her letter she will ask the Rules and Legislative Administration Committee, controlled by Democrats, to approve a mandate.

The mandate would require all of the House’s some 250 full-time employees to become fully vaccinated or provide the results of weekly tests by Feb. 9, when Minnesota OSHA plans to begin enforcement of the rule. Staff and interns may seek an exemption for religious or medical reasons.

When the new legislative session begins Jan. 31, the lower chamber will again have slightly more stringent COVID-19 precautions than the state Senate controlled by Republicans.

The House will largely continue working remotely with committee meetings being conducted online. House members will also have the option of participating in floor sessions remotely. Face coverings are required in shared spaces under House control and on the House floor.

The Republican-controlled Senate will allow for members to participate in person or online for both committee meetings and floor sessions. Current rules only allow those present in the Capitol to speak during floor sessions and masks aren’t required but rather, “strongly encouraged.” 

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and his fellow House Republicans have been vocal critics of vaccine mandates, with more than three dozen representatives signing a letter to the Mayo Clinic threatening to withdraw funding support unless it backed off from a vaccine mandate for workers. Mayo Clinic did not withdraw its mandate and last week fired some 700 employees for failing to comply.

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Max Nesterak
Max Nesterak

Max Nesterak is the deputy editor of the Reformer and reports on labor and housing. Previously, he was an associate producer for Minnesota Public Radio after a stint at NPR. He also co-founded the Behavioral Scientist and was a Fulbright Scholar to Berlin, Germany.