The Minnesota House and Senate voted overnight Wednesday to end Gov. Tim Walz's emergency powers July 1, ending the authority the governor has wielded for more than a year to help the state contain the deadly COVID-19 pandemic.
Legislators took the vote early Wednesday morning as part of a larger budget deal aimed at averting a partial government shutdown. Legislators also passed a public safety bill that had been a key point of division in recent months, ensuring a significant part of government would remain funded in the event of a shutdown. Legislators on Wednesday will take up the education and tax bills, which account for billions of dollars in spending and about a billion in tax breaks.
"Ending emergency powers is a legislative prerogative," said Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R- East Gull Lake. "The governor has held onto these powers far too long and used them far too broadly."
The vote came after Walz had announced he would end his powers, which had emerged as a key sticking point in budget negotiations.
"The COVID-19 peacetime emergency allowed us to respond quickly and effectively to the pandemic this past year," Walz said. The governor said that he had reached agreement with federal agencies to ensure more than $45 million in food aid keeps flowing to the state. That agreement means "that we can close this chapter of our history and celebrate the brighter days ahead."
The Legislature has until midnight to finish the state budget for the next two years. If lawmakers don't wrap up spending plans by then, some government operations will come to a halt Thursday.
Bills have been passed to fund many pockets of state government, including health and human services programs and state parks, warding off shutdown fears for those areas.
But more work still remained after the House and Senate passed the public safety and judiciary bill that funds law enforcement, courts and prisons.
Democrats contended the public safety agreement reached over the weekend by leaders fell short on police accountability.
"I am very disappointed — I am very saddened — by the fact that we have failed Minnesotans, that we have not met this moment," said Rep. Cedrick Frazier, DFL-New Hope. "The world has been watching us for almost two years and I think they were hoping for us to shine a light through this darkness."
Republicans, stressing that they value the work done by law enforcement, rejected proposed DFL amendments they said would undermine officers' ability to keep people safe and send the wrong message about police. GOP senators blocked Democratic pushes for limits on traffic stops and a prohibition on officers affiliating with white supremacist groups.
In the House, members agreed to tweak their bill to allow for "sign and release" warrants, which would no longer require police to arrest a person who missed a court date for certain low-level offenses. The House also approved an amendment penalizing people for sharing personal information about a law enforcement officer, such as their home address.
The GOP-led Senate started the day highlighting the dangers police officers face. They applauded Arik Matson, shot in the head while on duty as a Waseca police officer, who looked on from the Senate gallery with his wife. A provision bearing his name in the public safety bill would increase the penalties for injuring a law enforcement officer.
Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault wore a "Thin Blue Line" lapel pin, a sign of support for law enforcement, while he introduced Matson's family. Democrats later said the pin constituted "visual advocacy" and requested he remove it.
An hour later at the State Capitol, people who had lost a loved one to police violence gathered to share stories of their losses and call on legislators to amend the bill with additional accountability measures.
"We are needing you all to pass these bills not only for our loved ones, but everyone to come," said Tiffany Roberson-Burns, whose brother, Jamar Clark, was fatally shot by Minneapolis police. "We don't want to see this happen again. We don't want to be here, we have to be here. We shouldn't have to fight this hard to get accountability."
The public safety deal was the product of divided government, Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, told his colleagues. Democrats control the House and governor's office; Republicans hold the Senate.
"We come to some of these issues with various degrees of opposition," said Limmer, who chairs the Senate Public Safety Committee. "It's been a rather difficult process to arrive at a common point. I believe we have, as far as we can go, and some of the issues that the House wants will have to continue to be discussed."
The Minnesota Police and Peace Officers Association supports the agreement, he said, along with sheriffs, chiefs of police, county attorneys, firefighters groups and others.
Lawmakers also tackled a bill Tuesday focused on employment and economic development. They passed the measure, which includes $70 million to expand broadband across the state, an increasingly pressing need as more people work from home.
The bill also contains $150 million in assistance for businesses hurt by the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest following the police killing of George Floyd.
Lawmakers still need to wrap up the tax bill, which includes about $1 billion of tax relief over the next four years. Among the last-minute amendments to the tax package posted Tuesday was $6.2 million for a land bridge over Interstate 94 to reconnect the historic Black Rondo neighborhood in St. Paul that was torn apart in the 1960s by the freeway's creation.
Another amendment establishes a working group to make recommendations by Sept. 6 on how to disburse $250 million of financial support to workers who have been on the pandemic's front lines. The tax measure does not face the same July 1 deadline as the state budget funding bills.
Staff writer Stephen Montemayor contributed to this report.
Jessie Van Berkel • 651-925-5044