The Potluck

Lawmakers fail to reach compromise on pandemic bonus pay, advance competing plans to Legislature

By: - October 27, 2021 4:32 pm

The Minnesota State Capitol in St. Paul as the sun sets on Election Day, November 3, 2020. Photo by Tony Webster.

Minnesota lawmakers on Wednesday voted to advance two competing plans to distribute $250 million in pandemic bonus pay to essential workers.  

A committee of DFL and GOP legislators, and three appointees of Gov. Tim Walz, for weeks had been deadlocked in how to distribute the aid, divided over who should receive the backpay. 

It’s unclear when the plans would get full votes because lawmakers are not currently in session. 

 Lawmakers planned to be in special session last month to pass the legislation, but they missed a self-imposed deadline.

Differences between Walz and Senate Republicans have further complicated negotiations. Walz has pushed for assurances from Senate Republicans that they would not vote down his health commissioner; they have refused. It’s possible the issue could still be resolved when lawmakers return in regular session in late January.

The panel of lawmakers has met in recent weeks to hash out which essential workers would be eligible for checks. Republicans favor limiting the pool of eligible workers to those who sustained an “intimate exposure to COVID-19.”

The partisan bickering extended to how both DFL and GOP lawmakers viewed Wednesday’s committee vote, with Democratic lawmakers saying the issue had been punted and Republicans claiming the work was concluded.

 “We did get our work done today,” state Sen. Karin Housley, R-Stillwater, said. 

Under a GOP-proposed plan, the legislation would provide a one-time $1,200 payment to nurses, long-term care workers and first responders. 

Democratic legislators on the panel have favored a broader base of essential workers, which would include meatpacking plant workers, janitorial staff and daycare workers, among others. 

State Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, presented a third proposal that he and other DFL lawmakers called a compromise. The DFL plan made changes to the number of hours employees needed to work to qualify, created different tiers of workers and would have paid more to workers favored in the Republicans proposal. 

Democratic members of the committee blasted Republicans, blaming them for the impasse that they say is unlikely to be resolved soon in a divided Legislature.

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Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez

Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.