In the war of words over Keith Ellison’s lawsuit against a Stearns County bar that wanted to reopen in violation of state pandemic orders, the state attorney general pleads guilty to the charge of enforcing the law.
Hours before Ellison sued to stop the Shady’s chain of bars and restaurants from reopening, Minnesota House Republicans wrote an open letter calling on him to “work with businesses, not against them,” while still acknowledging his legal authority.
The GOP letter also came with a not-so-thinly veiled threat to cut Ellison’s budget the next time it’s up before the Legislature.
“You ask whether I intend to enforce Minnesota law,” Ellison wrote back, adding that he learned of the GOP letter through the news media. “I assure you that I have every intention of discharging my constitutional duty to the best of my ability.”
Ellison said that some of the points raised by House Republicans were “rooted in some misunderstandings,” including suggestions that his office was threatening — rather than educating — businesses suspected of forging ahead with plans to reopen too soon.
Ellison also pointed out that his office had no authority to levy fines directly and that any fines imposed by the courts would go to the state’s general fund and not his office.
The tussle over Gov. Tim Walz’s peacetime emergency powers deepened after Senate Republicans also wrote to Walz and Ellison to argue that the two DFLers have exceeded their emergency powers.
The Senate GOP letter said that Ellison’s suit against Shady’s was evidence “the executive branch does not share our concerns about the plight of Minnesota businesses.”
While the GOP senators who signed the letter wrote that they appreciate that the state did not pursue criminal action against the business, the civil penalty sought by Ellison’s office “sends a heavy-handed message to small businesses and workers who seek to safely reopen just like their big-box competitors.”
Ellison noted in an interview that for all the heat over the Walz administration’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, Republicans in the Legislature have not exercised their constitutional authority to reject the peacetime emergency Walz declared in March.
That could change when lawmakers return to the State Capitol in June for a special session, according to the Senate Republicans’ letter.
“In light of this recent lawsuit and the looming June 12 special session, please understand that the previous restraint shown by the Senate to not exercise the authority granted under M.S. 12.31 to terminate the current peacetime emergency powers has become tenuous,” the Republicans wrote.
Presumably, however, the DFL-controlled House would have some say in the matter.