Minnesota Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said Monday he wants more legislative control over Gov. Tim Walz's coronavirus-related actions, but he does not want to force a showdown with the governor over a major construction bonding bill.
"The sooner we get to the legislative bodies working with the governor, the better off I think we'll be. But I'm not making that a condition of working on a bonding bill," Gazelka said.
GOP House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt said over the weekend that his caucus would block a state bonding bill until Walz's emergency powers end. The bill provides long-term financing for infrastructure projects around the state. It requires a three-fifths majority to pass the House, meaning Republican votes are necessary.
Under the existing makeup of the House, six Republicans would have to join Democrats for the measure to succeed. House Republicans thwarted a bonding bill last year and could do it again, Walz said Monday. The governor said the construction projects are needed and he has heard "nothing other than positives" about a borrowing bill to improve communities.
Walz also said the powers he has under a peacetime state of emergency have been critical to respond to the crisis. The emergency declaration has allowed Walz to issue stay-at-home orders, close schools and businesses and take other sweeping actions to respond quickly to the COVID-19 pandemic without legislative approval.
"If we had to wait to make some of the decisions we've made, I don't think we could have ever got there," Walz said. "I think it would have been very, very difficult to build a coalition on testing. … Some of this just requires this."
The current declaration of peacetime emergency is set to expire May 13, five days before the Legislature is scheduled to adjourn. The standoff with Daudt could intensify if the governor opts to extend his emergency powers for another 30 days.
"May 13th is a critical day … The farther we go, the more resistance you're going to see, because we think we should be working together, legislative body with the governor," Gazelka said.
Both the House and Senate would need to agree to override Walz and end the state of emergency, and House Democrats have rejected the GOP's previous attempts to end it. House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said in a statement over the weekend that ending the declaration before the emergency had passed would be "reckless."
Gazelka outlined three key issues he wants to iron out by the end of the session on May 18.
The GOP leader from East Gull Lake wants the Legislature to have oversight of the roughly $2 billion in federal funding the state has received to respond to the crisis. He also wants to pass a bonding bill, which could fund improvements to roads, wastewater systems, college and university campuses and other state and local infrastructure. And he hopes to reach a deal that provides tax relief to businesses and individuals by delaying tax payments and lifting penalties.
"Those are important things that I feel like we need to keep working [on] right to the end, and I don't want it to be sidetracked," Gazelka said.
However, he also continued his call for Walz to allow more businesses to reopen. Several businessmen and a pastor joined Gazelka and other Republicans at the Capitol on Monday to urge Walz to allow them to quickly reopen their businesses and church.
Matt Winter, an owner of PLate restaurant in Prior Lake, said without dine-in options his sales have dropped to just 20 to 40% of what they were before the coronavirus. He said they have come up with safety guidelines including sanitizing every 15 minutes, limiting how many guests can enter the restaurant at a time and having people wear masks and gloves.
"We would like to have an opportunity to do it safely in a legal way," Winter said.
Gazelka suggested the governor could allow certain areas of the state to open up before others. He also announced Monday that the Senate had created a COVID-19 Economic Recovery Taskforce to look into how to reopen businesses safely.
Staff writer Briana Bierschbach contributed to this report.