State aid for front-line workers and farmers struggling with drought remains on hold at the State Capitol, and now pandemic response measures have also gotten caught up in the political stalemate.
Gov. Tim Walz and legislative leaders failed to break through a monthlong impasse during a meeting Tuesday. The DFL governor followed the discussion with a letter pressing the divided Legislature to address bonus pay for essential workers and drought relief. He also called for lawmakers to grant more flexibility and add requirements Walz said would allow hospitals, nursing homes and schools to better respond to COVID-19.
"While my administration continues to adapt and respond to emerging issues due to the delta variant, the Legislature needs to address a number of issues to keep our students and teachers, families, workers, and communities safe," Walz's letter stated.
Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm is at the center of the holdup.
Walz has sole power to call the Legislature into a special session to tackle the issues that state leaders debated Tuesday. But he wants Senate Republicans to agree not to vote out Malcolm if he calls a special session.
Republicans, some of whom oppose Malcolm and Walz's approach to vaccines and other COVID regulations, have said they would not strike such a bargain.
Legislators also remain at odds over who should be included in the front-line worker pay package.
"I appreciate the meeting with Governor Walz and legislative leaders this afternoon, and I'm confident we can reach an agreement on the bonus pay for front line workers," Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, said in a statement. "The growing list of requests from Governor Walz is not productive towards ensuring these dedicated workers receive their bonus pay in a timely manner. They took the biggest risk and kept us safe during the pandemic, and they deserve meaningful bonus checks."
Walz's letter pushed lawmakers to tackle a broader set of goals than previously discussed.
The governor, who for nearly 16 months used executive orders to respond to the pandemic, lost that power after the state of peacetime emergency ended this summer.
He said Tuesday he currently does not plan to call another state of emergency.
But in his letter to legislators, he stressed that COVID-19 hospitalization levels are higher than they were in the spring, and the caseloads are more than twice what they were at this time last year. He said lawmakers need to reinstate or continue flexibility aimed at ensuring hospitals have enough capacity to handle patients, and that there are sufficient medical professionals to meet the need and enough nursing home beds.
Walz also urged legislators to set consistent requirements for schools around quarantining, testing, masking and notifying parents of COVID cases. He stressed that school districts should provide food and essential student services when classes can't meet in person. And he said lawmakers should consider vaccine and testing requirements for teachers, school staff and long-term care workers.
"I recognize there's a very slim chance that they will do those things," Walz said of his school-related requests to legislators. "But I need to make it clear that it is the best course of action."
House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said in a statement that House Democrats are ready to pass front-line worker pay and drought relief and help health care providers respond to the delta variant.
"The simple question for Republicans is whether they're willing to set aside partisan politics for a concise special session that takes care of these matters," she said.
Staff writer Jeremy Olson contributed to this report.