A year ago, before we had a confirmed COVID-19 case in the state, Sen. Jerry Relph (who died in December) offered the first COVID bill in the Legislature. It passed with unanimous support in the only divided legislature in the country.
Within a few weeks we had passed nearly half a billion dollars in funding for COVID response. A year ago we lacked adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), didn't know how the virus transmitted, and medical professionals had limited experience and no proven therapeutic treatments.
The first case was confirmed in Minnesota on March 6, 2020. By March 17, executive powers were declared, businesses and schools were closed, and life as we knew it was totally changed.
Since that time, we've learned best practices for mitigation, stood up PPE supply chains, developed therapeutic treatment for COVID patients and distributed multiple vaccines across the state. Every day is a day closer to normal.
Thinking about one year of COVID reminded me that Ronald Reagan once asked the question: "Are you better off than you were four years ago?" The type of questions he asked are relevant today. Reagan asked: Is it easier to go buy things? Is there more or less unemployment? Is our state as respected? Do you feel more safe? Are we as strong?
Compared to one year ago, it is not easier to buy things at the store — even if the store hasn't been forced out of business.
Too many are unemployed or have left the workforce as executive orders have restricted businesses.
Minnesota voters are not respected when Gov. Tim Walz acts without the Legislature having input.
Many communities feel less safe as violent crime spikes uncontrollably.
Pandemic stress has weakened us all — especially parents trying to keep their kids' education on track during distance learning.
After a full year of Gov. Walz running the state with emergency powers, no, we are not better off. We must return to working together to balance the budget, recover from COVID-19 and support Minnesota families. Instead of following the science and ending the emergency as vaccinations increase, Walz has demanded that a partisan legislative agenda be passed first.
The governor says the Legislature moves too slowly. But we quickly acted on COVID-specific needs. We expanded workers' compensation, covered testing and care costs, funded distance-learning and tele-health needs, provided grants for small businesses and disability services, and extended unemployment benefits. All with bipartisan support.
So with no end to emergency powers in sight, the Senate has voted to rein in executive powers with tri-partisan support. We passed a bill providing that only schools can decide when to close due to health concerns. We voted to allow businesses with health safety plans in place to remain open, and that they can't be shut down without proper notice. Next, we are going to reform emergency powers so no governor can shut out the Legislature and run the state alone for months on end.
It's not just us. Many other states are looking at reforms — New York Democrats stripped their Democrat governor of his emergency powers this week.
Let's be clear: The bills to reform emergency powers are not about COVID. We have proved we can respond to emergency needs in a quick fashion.
But after a year of emergency powers, we know that, regardless of the issue, a virus, a natural disaster or a terrorist attack, no one person should have total control of state government. There is too much at stake — our children's education, your livelihood and society's most vulnerable — to not have other voices in the discussion.
A year later, we are not better off with unlimited emergency powers. It's time for them to end.
Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, is majority leader of the Minnesota Senate.