Minnesota Capitol

Minnesota's 2020 legislative session ends Monday, but it's likely to carry on into a special session as lawmakers debate what to do moving forward regarding COVID-19 and a bonding bill for projects across the state.

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt recently announced the Republican caucus would not support a bonding bill if Gov. Tim Walz maintains his peacetime emergency executive powers. The bonding bill, which tends to be passed every two years in Minnesota, includes construction work around the state for public projects. A bonding bill will require Republican support to clear the Minnesota House of Representatives.

Though lawmakers have not hashed out an agreement on the projects that would ultimately be included in a bonding bill, Walz's proposal included $5 million for a $10 million project to improve the civics arena and park system in Litchfield, and the construction of a new wellness center. It also included aid for a Dassel-Cokato Public School District regional activity center.

Earlier this year, local lawmakers cited road and bridge projects, aid to the state's two college systems and wastewater project aid as top priorities. Rep. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, and Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, both listed improvements to U.S. Highway 212 as priorities. Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Acton Township, highlighted rural affordable housing and rural child care access.

"The goal is to get a bonding bill," Urdahl said Friday. "We want to get a bonding bill done. I want to get a bonding bill done."

Gruenhagen agreed, and said he originally supported the governor's emergency powers.

"We had to get the hospitals up to speed and there was a lot we didn't know. We didn't have the data," he said. "We have the data now. We can reopen this economy and work together."

Gruenhagen said he believes Daudt's position "is the only leverage we have. A lot of people are hurting."

Urdahl said it isn't uncommon for the bonding bill to be caught up in session negotiations, but noted the situation with COVID-19 is a unique one.

"When (Walz) was making a lot of these decisions they had to be snap decisions that had to be done quickly," he said. "But what leader Daudt is saying now is the governor has gone beyond the time where these snap decisions are necessary, and he should be consulting with the Legislature. (Walz) has created a power imbalance in the state of Minnesota.

He added that he hopes Daudt and Walz can reach an agreement.

"The session ends May 18, but realistically we'll be going to special session to do COVID bills, but also a (bonding bill)," Urdahl said.

Gruenhagen said it is also important for the state to more thoroughly open the economy. He said originally there were concerns that hospitals would be overwhelmed, but since then the state has made preparations and hospitals have had time to gear up. The risk, he added, is to those in nursing homes and who have underlying health conditions.

"We've got to get back to a more rational position," Gruenhagen said. "Just for the record, we've never quarantined healthy people (before). ... Healthy people should be able to get on with their lives. We know where the problem is. Rather than tanking the whole economy and shutting it down, we should be securing those who are most vulnerable."

Jeremy Jones is a reporter for the Independent Review's sister newspaper, the Hutchinson Leader.

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