State Capitol leaders in St. Paul were making preparations Wednesday for the fast-spreading coronavirus, though officials say there is not yet any need to postpone the daily course of legislative business or restrict public access.
Still, some lawmakers were taking precautions.
Rep. Patrick Garofalo, R-Farmington, postponed a listening session on mining issues scheduled for March 31 due to concerns about coronavirus. “Out of an abundance of caution, we have determined it in the best interest of the community to postpone this listening session,” he said.
A doctor and state Sen. Matt Klein, DFL-Mendota Heights, said he is suspending face-to-face constituent meetings until further notice, citing concerns about elderly residents in his district who are most vulnerable to the virus.
At least one legislator, Sen. Jeff Howe, R-Rockville, was tested for COVID-19 after attending a Republican CPAC conference in Maryland where another attendee tested positive. He is confirmed negative.
Meanwhile House Democrats rolled out a package of bills on Wednesday in response to COVID-19, including a measure to require health insurance coverage of COVID-19 testing and treatment, as well as a proposal to make sure hourly employees like bus drivers are still compensated in the event of school closures caused by spread of the illness.
Democrats are also considering legislation to give the Gov. Tim Walz more executive authority in the event of a public health emergency and expand unemployment insurance and sick leave benefits during an outbreak.
“We want to keep Minnesotans safe. We are moving these bills and considering these bills as fast as possible,” said Speaker Melissa Hortman. “Things are changing on an hour-by-hour basis.”
As news of the University of Minnesota’s decision to cancel in-person classes in response to coronavirus spread throughout the Capitol Wednesday, staffers and lobbyists were wondering if the Capitol complex was next.
But lawmakers said they are waiting on word from the Department of Health before restricting events and in-person meetings in St. Paul.
“We have not reached a moment in time where our public health professionals in the state of Minnesota are recommending that we dial back access to the Capitol or the size of gatherings we attend,” Hortman added.