ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Senate on Thursday, Feb. 25, advanced a plan to drop capacity restrictions on businesses as long as they have COVID-19 mitigations measures in place.
On a 38-29 vote, Republicans, along with a handful of Democrats and independents advanced the plan that would also require a majority of the Legislature to approve any proposed changes to businesses related to the pandemic and future emergencies. A 14-day window would also be required before any additional restrictions under an emergency order could take effect.
The bill faces a blockade in the House of Representatives where Democrats hold majority control and leaders have signaled opposition to the plan. And Walz in an announcement about the next phases of COVID-19 vaccine rollouts on Thursday said he'd share plans for more fully reopening restaurants, bars and other businesses in coming weeks.
But the measure's supporters and leaders in the business community said operators needed a speedier plan to reopen. With vaccination rates increasing in the state and COVID-19 case counts, hospitalizations and deaths decreasing, they said Walz's emergency orders were no longer needed.
“It’s time to start unwinding these emergency orders that have left one person in charge of too many crucial decisions,” Sen. Andrew Mathews, R-Princeton, said. “It’s time for us to start putting some faith and trust back in Minnesotans. ... The customers will tell us whether we're doing a good job or we're not."
Opponents, meanwhile, said the plan could put workers and customers at risk and allow the virus to spread in Minnesota. Democrats in the chamber tried and failed to bring several amendments that would require establishing additional protections for workers under the bill.
"Senate File 1 is mere politics, it does nothing further to protect businesses, workers and our consumers, not one thing, except to revoke the governor's peacetime power, which we still need right now," Sen. Foung Hawj, D-St. Paul, said. "We are living through our toughest time. Thousands of lives are gone. ... We are not out of the woods yet."
Lawmakers in the divided Statehouse for months have disagreed over the best course for rolling back the governor's emergency orders and ending the peacetime emergency for COVID-19. Republican lawmakers in seven special legislative sessions last year voted to end the peacetime emergency, citing a desire to be more involved in COVID-19 response. Meanwhile, Walz said the GOP lawmakers attempted to enter into discussions in bad faith since they'd flouted public health guidance around masking and avoiding large group gatherings.
Senate Republicans this year have moved several bills this year aimed at striking existing directives or blocking Walz's ability to enact emergency orders.