Minnesota legislators who have been working outside the public eye to reach a deal on COVID-19 relief say they will convene Thursday at the Capitol to approve the aid.
While lawmakers have essentially recessed until mid-April because of the COVID-19 emergency, members of the state House disclosed details Tuesday of meetings they have been holding for the past week to discuss bills ranging from driver's license expiration forgiveness to child care policy proposals related to the coronavirus.
They are also reviewing Gov. Tim Walz's proposal to spend an additional $356 million on COVID-19 response.
Walz's supplemental budget proposal would include money to help child care centers, food shelves, homeless shelters and veterans weather the pandemic. It would create a $200 million COVID-19 fund in the state treasury that state agencies could use broadly to respond to the pandemic. The fund could be used to pay for increased staff and health care needs in prisons, or overtime for people working with direct care and treatment programs that serve people with developmental disabilities, mental illness and addiction.
"Legislative leaders have agreed to reconvene on Thursday. We are continuing to work closely with the Walz Administration on urgent COVID-19 matters to protect the health and well-being of Minnesotans. We will publicly release details on specific legislation on the House and Senate websites as soon as we can," Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman and Senate Republican Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said in a joint statement.
For lawmakers to pass the relief bills on Thursday and send them to Walz for his signature still requires the politically divided Legislature to strike a deal.
Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said in a statement that Minnesotans are facing significant medical concerns and financial hardships and the House's goal is to pass legislation to safeguard people's health and economic well-being.
She released an outline Tuesday of informal working group meetings that have taken place via conference calls that were not open to reporters and the public. She said the House is trying to create opportunities for people to engage in the process, possibly by making committee hearings available to the public online. For now, people can submit comment forms on the state's website or reach legislators to share their thoughts.
Thousands of people have contacted DFL House members and heard back in the past week, Hortman said.
As lawmakers gather this week, Hortman and Gazelka said they will follow Minnesota Department of Health guidelines to keep legislators, staff and the public safe.