The Minnesota House on Thursday approved a $330 million COVID-19 emergency response package, voting 99-4 and advancing the measure to the Senate.
Crafted over the past 10 days of intense negotiations with legislative leaders from both parties, the package creates a $200 million COVID-19 response fund available to Gov. Tim Walz to spend with legislative oversight. The package also distributes money to food shelves, child care centers, veterans and the 11 tribal nations in the state.
Thursday’s legislative session was unlike any previously seen in modern history. The pandemic, which has now claimed two lives in Minnesota while another 346 Minnesotans have tested positive, has radically altered how Minnesota conducts the business of its democracy.*
Members were spread out throughout the chamber, in the alcoves, gallery and even in the Capitol Rotunda to remain at least six feet apart, as recommended by public health experts. Press also had limited access to the proceedings: Just six at a time could view from the gallery, and journalists were prohibited from on the House floor.
Legislative leaders had worked behind-the-scenes by teleconference to hammer out the details of the emergency package, which took top priority as all other previous legislative aims were jettisoned.
“We’ve done this work together in adverse conditions,” House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley said, expressing lament at the lack of public input on the process.
Winkler, however, said in an interview Wednesday that the Legislature was doing its best during an emergency that made it difficult to present and vet the legislation in public.
House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and his caucus all voted in favor of the legislation, but not before registering some criticism and concern.
Daudt said he worried about the impact of the economic downturn expected because of the COVID-19 pandemic, reminding the Legislature that the projected $1.5 billion surplus forecast in February could vanish. Unemployment claims have tripled in the past two weeks and revenues going into state coffers are expected to collapse.
Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, spoke out against Planned Parenthood, saying it was wrong for the clinic which provides healthcare services to women, including some abortions. She said it was wrong for the health care provider to be excluded from the governor’s stay-at-home order which considers reproductive care essential. She voted for the emergency aid package.
Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, and three other members of the New House Repubublican Caucus voted against the bill. Drazkowski criticized the lack of public input and transparency. He said the government response to the pandemic was heavy handed, saying families best know how to care for themselves.
* A previous version of this story incorrectly reported the number of lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases.