ST. PAUL — Minnesota lawmakers are again expected to return to the Capitol next week as the governor mulls another extension to the state's peacetime emergency to combat the coronavirus.
In a procedure that has become routine this summer, Gov. Tim Walz will call lawmakers back into a special legislative session where they will mull a veto of his proposed 30-day extension of the peacetime emergency and the broader powers it provides to the governor.
And once again, the DFL-controlled House of Representatives is expected to support the extension while the GOP-led Senate is expected to vote it down, allowing the peacetime emergency to continue for another month.
While Walz and legislative leaders have expressed optimism about passing a $1.8 billion public jobs and projects bill this month, they wouldn't be able to do that right away as a "quiet period" continues after the state put out bids for bonds to fund older projects. That could come to fruition at the end of September.
"I think at this point in time, there’s work that needs to be done, while we can’t do a bonding bill, we can get an agreement on a bonding bill, we can get agreement around a supplemental budget and we can talk some of the reforms that need to go forward,” Walz told reporters last month.
But following a clash between Senate Republicans and the executive branch, GOP lawmakers could again flex a point of leverage if they disagree with the agenda or the approach Walz takes in summoning them back to St. Paul.
In a surprise move last month, the Senate voted against the confirmation of former Labor and Industry Commissioner Nancy Leppink, effectively terminating her. And in the weeks since, senators have cued up a handful of other commissioners with whom they have grievances for possible confirmation or termination in the Senate.
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, on Thursday, Sept. 3, said the Senate would cap the special session at one day and left open the option to bring up commissioners.
Gazelka and Walz this week in a set of public letters clashed over the state's COVID-19 response, with Gazelka again asking Walz to end the peacetime emergency and bring lawmakers to the table to make more decisions.
“We acknowledge that COVID is serious, that we’re in a pandemic," Gazelka said. "I would argue that we’re not any longer in an emergency, but that doesn’t mean we don’t both take it seriously."
Walz's chief of staff in a letter to Gazelka said legislative leaders had been "shockingly absent" from prior briefings and the governor maintained that the illness posed a substantial threat that merited another extension of the peacetime emergency.
"It's not that unusual that 60 days out from an election that things get a little heated but I think it's really incumbent and I very much value the relationship with Sen. Gazelka personally," Walz said. "I think both of us agree that's not the best way to go forward. We have a sit down to try to turn down the heat a little bit on that."
Walz and Gazelka on Thursday met to discuss a path forward and both told reporters they were hopeful they could continue to work together. How effective those conversations were could become clearer next week when legislators are expected to reconvene Friday, Sept. 11.