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Walz, Legislature move to end coronavirus peacetime emergency by Thursday, July 1

The surprise move came as state legislators race to pass Minnesota's state budgets by deadline.

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Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan speak to reporters at the Minnesota state Capitol in St. Paul on June 24, 2021 as the Legislature works to finish up its state budget within one week. Sarah Mearhoff / Forum News Service
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ST. PAUL — The emergency is almost over in Minnesota — at least according to state lawmakers in St. Paul.

Gov. Tim Walz in a late night news release on Tuesday, June 29, announced a plan to end his coronavirus peacetime emergency on Thursday, July 1, just over 24 hours away. Walz has maintained the state's state of emergency and his corresponding executive powers since March 2020.

Walz made his move as Minnesota House members debated the state government budget omnibus bill. House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, D-Golden Valley, shortly before midnight Tuesday offered an amendment to end the emergency, which he said was negotiated with the Republican-controlled Senate.

The emergency powers have ignited a months-long, partisan debate in St. Paul over executive authority and the separation of powers. Legislative Republicans have said Walz overstepped his bounds as governor, and that the Legislature should have been involved in pandemic-related policies and programs. Walz has maintained that a pandemic is an ongoing emergency, and that the nation's only divided Legislature wouldn't be able to act quickly enough in an ever-evolving health care crisis.

On Friday, Walz told Capitol reporters that he'd end the emergency Aug. 1 , but Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, said that wasn't soon enough.

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Tuesday's late-night bargain comes as the Legislature races to wrap up 13 state budget bills by 11:59 p.m. on June 30. Negotiating budgets and related policies has proven arduous in the politically divided Legislature, and if the budgets aren't complete in time, the state could see state agency and services shutdowns.

Ultimately, legislative Republicans took Walz up on his offer, with both the House and Senate greenlighting the amendment early Wednesday morning. Following the House's vote, Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, called the move "long overdue."

Now, he said, he wants to rewrite state law " to make sure that no governor can ever again abuse emergency authority like Gov. Walz has for the past year."

"House Republicans are thrilled that the peacetime emergency has come to an end, but it's clear that emergency powers are in desperate need of reform to strike a proper balance between the executive and legislative branch," he said.

In his news release, Walz defended his use of the peacetime emergency, saying it "allowed us to respond quickly and effectively to the pandemic this past year."

"We built testing sites from the ground up, we secured emergency personal protective equipment to protect our healthcare workers on the frontlines, and we developed a nation-leading vaccination program to get life-saving shots into the arms of Minnesotans,” he said.

Part of Tuesday night's plan is an agreement with the federal government to ensure that the state can retain $45 million in SNAP benefits for needy Minnesotans that were in question should Walz end the emergency.

Walz said the plan retains the federal nutritional assistance and provides a plan "to wind down the emergency response in state government, means that we can close this chapter of our history and celebrate the brighter days ahead."

Mearhoff is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. You can reach her at smearhoff@forumcomm.com or 651-290-0707.
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