January 25, 2021
Gov. Walz preps ‘COVID-19 recovery' budget for Tuesday release
From MPR News, Brian Bakst, January 25, 2021

Minnesota lawmakers have their work cut out for them in crafting a new two-year budget — a process that begins this week when Gov. Tim Walz lays out his $50 billion-plus proposal.

Walz is framing his proposal as “Minnesota’s COVID-19 recovery budget” that will emphasize assistance to small businesses, help for working families affected by the disease or the related fallout, and measures to get students caught up after a year of mostly distance learning.

“COVID is everything and really sets the backdrop for the proposals and mood as we release the budget,” said top Walz budget adviser Jim Schowalter, commissioner of the Department of Minnesota Management and Budget.

Tuesday’s budget release — thousands of pages detailing what agencies would use to administer hundreds of programs — is the start of a monthslong slog to the finish. A new budget must be in place by July 1 to avoid an interruption of services.

Ultimately, the Legislature and the governor must agree how much they’ll give schools to operate, who qualifies for what level of subsidized health care, whether admission fees for state parks change, if tax rates are adjusted and much more.

Lawmakers will have to address an anticipated revenue shortfall in the process, although that could well change by their final votes due to an updated economic forecast in February and potential relief from Washington.

Schowalter wouldn’t say if Walz will propose tax increases. But lawmakers in both parties expect it.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, also said the Legislature shouldn’t rule out raising taxes.
Deadline today: Tell the Minneapolis Fed about business conditions - MnRA partners with Fed on survey
Due to the continued economic stress from COVID-19, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis is tracking its ongoing effects on businesses across the Ninth District, a region that includes Minnesota, the Dakotas, Montana, parts of Wisconsin, and Michigan's Upper Peninsula. The Fed is partnering with state and local chambers of commerce, economic development associations and other business groups in each state, including MnRA to collect your feedback.

Please take this 5-minute survey to help the Minneapolis Fed and President Neel Kashkari better understand effects on your firm. With other business voices from across the Ninth District, your input will help the Federal Reserve System shape monetary policy to help businesses survive this economic shock. (If you get this survey from multiple sources, please respond to the survey only once.)

All responses are anonymous. We expect to share data and respondent comments to better spotlight challenges facing all businesses. To maintain anonymity, please do not include any self-identifying information in any comments. The Fed will also share findings in a timely fashion with partnering organizations (that sent you this survey) so survey results can be shared with you as well.

The Minneapolis Fed and MnRA greatly appreciate your time and valuable insights, and we wish you and your business resilience and prosperity in the coming year.

Tracking COVID-19 vaccinations in Minnesota
From the Star Tribune, Hannah Sayle, Matt DeLong and Glenn Howatt, January 23, 2021

After months of trials, the first coronavirus vaccines have been approved. Gov. Tim Walz in December laid out the initial steps in Minnesota's vaccination plan, and the first phase of vaccinations is underway. Here is information about the progress of vaccinations in Minnesota and answers to questions you may have about vaccines and the state's strategy to vaccinate millions of Minnesotans.

When will I be able to get vaccinated?

In Minnesota, first priority has been given to front-line health care workers in COVID-19 hospital units, emergency departments and nursing homes along with paramedics, COVID-19 testing personnel and some public health workers. Residents in nursing homes are also in the highest priority group. MDH announced Jan. 18 that it would expand vaccinations on a very limited basis to Minnesotans 65 and older, educators and child care workers at nine test sites around the state — Andover, Brooklyn Center, Fergus Falls, Marshall, Mountain Iron, North Mankato, Rochester, St. Cloud, and Thief River Falls.

The plan to administer vaccines in Minnesota has been divided into several phases:

  • Phase 1a: Frontline health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. This phase is currently underway and includes an estimated 500,000 people.
  • Phase 1b: Frontline essential workers and adults 75 years and older. Vaccinations for this group could start in late January or early February, health officials say. This phase will include a little more than a million people, according to health officials.
  • Phase 1c: Adults between the ages of 65 and 74, people aged 16 to 64 with high-risk medical conditions, and other essential workers. Health officials have not yet estimated the number of people in this phase.
  • Phase 2: When larger numbers of doses are available, any remaining Phase 1 recipients will be vaccinated, plus adults in communities that have been hit particularly hard by COVID-19.
  • Phase 3: As the vaccine becomes widely available, anyone who wishes to be vaccinated will be able to do so.
Retail workers are ready to help move MN forward--watch the video
With the federal government’s announcement last week that states should expand COVID vaccination to those 65 and older, Minnesota’s vaccine plan is changing. Before a Minnesota House and Senate hearing last week the Minnesota Department of Health announced it is nearing the end of vaccination in long term care facilities. With the change in federal guidance, Minnesota is retooling its plan moving forward.

MnRA sent a letter recently to the Minnesota COVID-19 Vaccine Allocation Advisory Group advocating that the State follow federal guidance relative to the prioritization of essential workers including front-line retail workers for the COVID vaccine. In addition, MnRA communicated that retail pharmacies and retailers in general look forward to being partners with the State as we are strongly connected to each Minnesota community. Click here to read the letter.

Also we rolled out a video communicating that front-line retail workers are ready for the vaccine and should receive their shots as soon as practical. See below for the full video. We extend a special thank you to MnRA Board member and 36 Lyn Refuel Station owner Lonnie McQuirter and his team for their work on delivering this important message!

Our retail workers are ready to help move Minnesota forward!

MnRA 30 minute legislative update calls each Monday during session
For members seeking an insiders look at the legislative week, MnRA hosts a weekly 10:00 a.m. Monday conference. This members-only activity takes place each week of legislative session through its conclusion and includes opportunities for retailers to get involved in the policy making process. To obtain dial-in information for these calls contact Savannah Sepic at savannah@mnretail.org or call us at (651) 227-6631.
MnRA partner advertisement:
Biden tells OSHA to issue new COVID-19 guidance
From Finance & Commerce, January 22, 2021

President Joe Biden directed the Occupational Safety and Health Administration on Thursday to release new guidance to employers on protecting workers from COVID-19.

In one of 10 executive orders that he signed Thursday, the president asked the agency to step up enforcement of existing rules to help stop the spread of the coronavirus in the workplace and to explore issuing a new rule requiring employers to take additional precautions.

The other executive orders also relate to the pandemic, including orders directing federal agencies to issue guidance for the reopening of schools and to use their powers to accelerate the production of protective equipment and expand access to testing.

Critics accused OSHA, which is part of the Labor Department, of weak oversight under former President Donald Trump, especially in the last year, when it relaxed record-keeping and reporting requirements related to COVID-19 cases.

Under Trump, the agency also announced that it would mostly refrain from inspecting workplaces outside of a few high-risk industries like health care and emergency response. And critics complained that its appetite for fining employers was limited. Biden’s executive order urges the agency to target “the worst violators,” according to a White House fact sheet.
Governor's emergency powers pose questions that House subcommittee seeks to answer
From Session Daily, Minnesota House of Representatives, January 22, 2021

Month after month throughout much of 2020, Gov. Tim Walz extended the state’s peacetime emergency for another 30 days to quickly help the state “take swift action to protect the health and wellbeing of our communities, families, and businesses” in response to COVID-19.

And each time he did, after the regular legislative session ended in May, lawmakers returned to St. Paul for an opportunity to weigh in on that decision. Most of those seven special sessions saw the Republican-controlled Senate vote to end the emergency powers and provide the Legislature more of a say, but motions to suspend the rules so such a resolution could be brought up in DFL-controlled House were always unsuccessful.

Supporters of the status quo said some decisions need to be made on short-notice, and going through the legislative process could be time detrimental.

“We couldn’t do things like expediting purchases and contracts, hiring temporary workers, redeploying state employees, renting facilities and equipment and effectively managing the money without the peacetime declaration,” said Joe Kelly, director of the state’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division.

Now that it’s back in regular session, steps could be taken to give the Legislature more of a voice.
House Subcommittee on Legislative Process Reform 01/22/21

“We’re in the 11th month of a governor having special powers. Are we OK with that continuing or are we not?” said Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington). “If we’re going to continue to allow one person to make the decisions then it doesn’t matter if the decisions are good or bad. … The primary issue is whether we’re going to have a role in this or whether the governor is going to continue making those decisions.”

“I was voted to represent 40,000 people in my district and I don’t think their voices were heard,” said Rep. Dave Lislegard (DFL-Aurora).

“The Legislature needs its power back,” said Rep. Marion O'Neill (R-Maple Lake).

Before the work begins, the House Subcommittee on Legislative Process Reform spent its first meeting Friday receiving a history of the governor’s emergency powers, reviewing executive orders put forth by Walz and getting updated on the current state of COVID-19 pandemic in Minnesota.

Rep. Gene Pelowski Jr. (DFL-Winona), the subcommittee chair, said the hope is to draft multiple things that can be a compromise on the gubernatorial emergency powers.

In a letter to the subcommittee, Walz said, “Minnesota has long been a model for good governance rooted in a spirit of collaboration. By working together on transferring these key life-saving provisions from executive to legislative action, we can demonstrate to the country how executive and legislative leaders can come together to nimbly tackle the varied challenges that the pandemic has presented.”
White House begins talks with lawmakers on COVID-19 relief
From the Star Tribune, Aamer Madhani * Lisa Mascaro, January 24, 2021

Top aides to President Joe Biden on Sunday began talks with a group of moderate Senate Republicans and Democrats on a $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package as Biden faces increasing headwinds in his effort to win bipartisan backing for the initial legislative effort of his presidency.

Lawmakers on the right question the wisdom of racking up bigger deficits while those on the left are urging Biden not to spend too much time on bipartisanship when the pandemic is killing thousands of Americans each day and costing more jobs amid tightening restrictions in many communities.

At least a dozen senators met for an hour and 15 minutes in a virtual call with White House National Economic Council director Brian Deese and other senior White House officials. Many hope to approve a relief package before former President Donald Trump's trial, which is set to begin in two weeks, overtakes Washington's attention.

Sen. Angus King, an independent from Maine, called the opening talks a "serious effort."

"There was not a hint of cynicism or lack of commitment to at least trying to work something out," King said. "If they were just trying to jam this through, I don't think it would have interrupted the Packers game."

King told reporters that there was "absolute consensus" among the group that the No. 1 priority was to speed up the distribution of vaccinations and expanding COVID-19 testing and tracing.