Clashes over COVID-related restrictions at the Minnesota Capitol have already begun, weeks before the start of the legislative session.
Legislative leaders are navigating a new standard, which took effect Monday, that requires employees to be fully vaccinated or wear a face covering and get tested weekly. However, the requirement does not apply to senators and representatives.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued the vaccine-or-test rule in November for private employers with more than 100 workers. The state Department of Labor and Industry extended it to public employers, although enforcement will not start until Feb. 9.
In the meantime, House Speaker Melissa Hortman told members and staff in a letter Monday that she is asking the House rules committee to approve a COVID-19 vaccination policy that complies with the requirement.
"The House has an obligation to comply with OSHA standards or face stiff penalties for noncompliance," wrote Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, adding that requests for religious or medical accommodations will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.
House DFL spokesman Ted Modrich said there is no plan at this point to add such a requirement for state legislators, who are not included in the OSHA rule.
In the Republican-controlled Senate, Secretary of the Senate Cal Ludeman wrote to staff and senators Tuesday morning, saying that they are waiting on a U.S. Supreme Court ruling around the vaccination requirements before proceeding.
The Supreme Court heard arguments Friday on an appeal of the vaccine-or-test requirement that President Joe Biden's administration imposed. The court is expected to rule on the standard soon, and its decision will impact the state's public employee requirement.
"Should the Supreme Court uphold OSHA's [emergency temporary standard], within two weeks I would distribute an ETS Compliance Plan to all Senators and staff that provides detailed guidance for the Senate's compliance with the ETS," Ludeman wrote, noting that staff have been working to ensure the Senate is able to follow the rule if it is upheld.
Beyond the vaccination and testing requirement, House and Senate leadership are deciding how to handle logistics ahead of the start of the regular legislative session on Jan. 31, as the omicron variant has spread across the state.
House committees will largely meet remotely, aside from a limited number of hybrid meetings in a room at the Capitol. The House has a mask mandate in place for anyone on the House floor or in other House-controlled spaces within the Capitol, and for shared spaces in the State Office Building where representatives' offices are located.
Senate leaders plan to have hybrid committee meetings and floor sessions, with a mix of in-person and Zoom participants.
The Senate's approach puts Minnesotans at risk, Minority Leader Melisa López Franzen and fellow DFL Sen. Melissa Wiklund wrote last week to GOP Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller.
They urged Senate leadership to require everyone to wear face coverings indoors and allow for social distancing in committee hearing rooms and other group spaces. The Democrats also said the Senate needs to take steps toward complying with the vaccinate-or-test rule and should request funding to help meet those requirements.