Mar 12, 2021 - News

Minnesota's yearlong COVID state of emergency

Photo illustration of Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, in a collage with the Minnesota State House and floating coronavirus molecules.

Photo Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

On March 13, 2020, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz declared a peacetime state of emergency to respond to COVID-19, saying he was "opening the toolbox" to protect Minnesotans.

  • An unprecedented 365 days later — a milestone we'll hit Saturday — the toolbox remains open.

Why it matters: The state of emergency has allowed the DFL governor to act solo — and quickly — to address the pandemic.

  • He's used his authority to issue 99 executive orders, including business closures, the mask mandate and an eviction moratorium.
  • The orders require approval from a council of elected constitutional officers, all of whom are currently Democrats, but not the Legislature.

The big picture: It's not just Walz still relying on executive authority 12 months in. 53 of 55 states and territories remain in an active state of emergency, per the National Governors Association.

The other side: The length and scope of Walz's emergency powers has rankled some legislators and voters, especially Republicans who describe his actions as an overreach.

  • "No one person should have total control of state government," Senate Republican Leader Paul Gazelka (R-East Gull Lake) wrote in a recent Star Tribune opinion piece. "There is too much at stake ... to not have other voices in the discussion."
  • But efforts to end the emergency and rescind the orders via the Legislature and the courts have so far failed.

What's next: Legislators from both parties are pushing proposals to rein in the executive powers granted to the governor in state statutes.

  • Walz has said he's open to winding down the emergency — if lawmakers in the divided Legislature can agree to enact some of the key public health measures, including the mask mandate.

Flashback: On the day the state of emergency was declared, 14 Minnesotans had tested positive.

  • As of Thursday, the state had logged 494,106 cases and 6,724 deaths.

This story first appeared in the Axios Twin Cities newsletter, designed to help readers get smarter, faster on the most consequential news unfolding in their own backyard.


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