Gov. Tim Walz so far says he isn't planning to return Minnesota to a state of emergency as COVID-19 cases rise and some cities and states around the country reinstate mask requirements.
The DFL governor would need to once again declare a peacetime emergency to impose a mask rule or other mandates — a move that would draw sharp condemnation from some lawmakers and reactivate the monthly legislative special sessions that just ended.
"The governor will continue to monitor the situation, encourage Minnesotans to get vaccinated, and work with the Legislature and state agencies to keep Minnesotans safe," Walz's spokeswoman Claire Lancaster said in a statement.
State officials on Wednesday released new recommendations for schools, including masking for teachers and students. They cannot mandate the measures — that decision falls to local school districts. But for some GOP legislators, even Wednesday's school guidance raised concerns.
"These are decisions that should be made at the local level with the involvement of students and parents, and with no undue influence or pressure from the Minnesota Department of Education to implement these recommendations," top Republicans on the House's education committees said in a statement.
Walz lifted regulations for masks in indoor public spaces on May 13, following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's lead. At the end of June he announced he was fully ending the peacetime emergency that had been in place since March 2020.
During the peacetime emergency, Walz could use executive powers to rapidly respond to the pandemic — leaving legislators out of much of the decisionmaking. GOP lawmakers spent nearly a year pushing the governor to end the state's emergency status.
It isn't just Republicans saying that peacetime emergency rules must change. Rep. Gene Pelowski, DFL-Winona, is working on a bill aimed at better addressing a key question: "How do we face an emergency, such as a pandemic, and balance the powers of the executive with the powers of the legislative branch?"
If Walz called another peacetime emergency now, the Legislature would not reconvene until after the fact, when the governor called lawmakers into session, Pelowski said. He wants the Legislature to gather as an emergency is being declared and plans to keep working on the bill ahead of the next regular session in January.
Meanwhile, the governor said Monday that legislators who fought to end his emergency powers should be thinking about measures that might be needed to prevent the spread happening now. As cases of the highly contagious delta variant rise across the nation, the CDC has recommended that people in regions with high infection rates once again wear masks indoors, even if they're vaccinated. As of Friday, 35 Minnesota counties had met the federal threshold to return to indoor masking.
"There's still every reason to be concerned," Walz said.