As of this writing, I’ve received hundreds of emails asking to have the state shutdown lifted and only three saying they are OK with the continuance. There is a growing sense of dismay, frustration and even anger from people feeling like they aren’t being heard. Here is my perspective.
Minnesota law gives the Governor the authority to call a State of Emergency when he feels circumstances dictate it. That original declaration is good for five days and gives him fairly unlimited authority. It can then be extended for another 30 days through approval of the Executive Committee, made up of the Governor, Lt. Governor, Secretary of State and the State Auditor. There are only two ways the State of Emergency can end: governor’s decision or a joint resolution approved by the House and Senate. The House brought this resolution forward twice recently, and both were voted down along party lines.
This authority was set up so the Governor could react quickly when an emergency arises and provide needed orders to minimize the effects of that emergency. Because the legislature is not in session for a majority of the year, it also makes sense that he can make these unilateral decisions without legislative input. However, when the legislature is in session there’s certainly debate on how co-equal branches of the government should work together. Because the Governor’s executive orders often require legislation and financial support, most believe in legislative involvement. It also makes sense that during times of emergency, if possible, being governed by all elected representatives is better than by one person.
I believe the Governor prudently acted within his authority as the COVID pandemic hit Minnesota. We were not as prepared as needed to deal with any surge in COVID victim numbers. And I believe the residents of Minnesota agreed with that. But as this pandemic has progressed, our understanding of the virus has changed and the statistics are nowhere near the original projections.
A few weeks ago, the Governor shared the modeling program he used to formulate and implement his executive orders. It included four scenarios, ranging from doing nothing to full shelter at home. The results of the third and fourth scenarios predicted identical numbers for ICU hospitalizations and deaths. The third scenario sheltered the most vulnerable with peaks at June 8, while the fourth forced everyone to stay home and peaked July 13.
The Governor chose scenario four, locking down the state and its financial recovery for an additional month with no appreciable improvement. I now believe we can lift the shelter at home safely and I’ll be glad to work with the Governor to do just that, understanding that we must protect the vulnerable as we lift the executive orders. But I also believe people have the right to be accountable for their own safety and health decisions, including wearing masks and using hand sanitizer. If they feel safe going about their normal business, they should have the right. If they feel unsafe, they can remain sheltered at home and everyone should support their decision.
It was never the intent of either the U.S. or Minnesota Constitution to restrict the free movement of its citizens. But that is where we are at. Until a majority of the Minnesota House disagrees with the governor, we are bound by that decision. In the meantime, I’m trying to convince the majority and the Governor to change his State of Emergency stance. When that happens, I’ll be happy to work with the Governor in providing the legislation needed to help and support our state’s recovery.
In the meantime, there’s plenty of work to do at the Capitol. Many have questions about the Capital Investment/Bonding Bill. I believe we’ll have one, but I think it’s unwise to put one together until we know the financial impact of the COVID pandemic and what funding will be needed to recover. Many important infrastructure projects need funding, but increasing our debt should be done prudently and prioritized for maximum impact. That said we still have time to pass a bonding bill and many other important priorities before session ends on May 18.