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Peacetime emergency means more special sessions ahead

If you've been wondering about 2020's bumper crop of special sessions, it's all about giving lawmakers an opportunity to strip the governor's emergency powers.

MINNEAPOLIS — Gov. Tim Walz has called lawmakers back to the State Capitol three times since the 2020 regular session ended in May. And he'll keep bringing them back once a month for the foreseeable future.

So, what's with all these special sessions? It's a question we've been getting quite a bit, considering most years there's only one special session, if there's one at all.

But 2020 isn't most years.

Once a month Governor Walz issues an executive order extending the peacetime emergency by 30 days, which gives him temporary special powers to respond quickly to the COVID-19 crisis without legislative consent.

As the governor and his legal team interpret state law, every time he extends the peacetime emergency, he must give legislators the opportunity to remove those powers.  And, because the Minnesota Legislature isn't in session during the summer, Walz must called them back for a special session to give them that chance to check his temporary extra powers.

RELATED: Walz extends peacetime emergency again

In the first three special sessions, the Republican-controlled Senate voted to rescind the governor's emergency powers and the DFL-controlled House balked at the idea.

Republicans contend the coronavirus pandemic is no longer the type of crisis that could suddenly present Walz with unforeseen dangers. They've expressed sharp criticism of how tightly churches, schools and businesses were locked down by the governor's other emergency orders.

GOP lawmakers say Walz should put lawmakers in the driver's seat when in comes to managing the state's response to COVID-19, or at least share the decision-making duties with them as a co-equal branch of government.

Democrats contend COVID-19 is still a public health emergency, and Walz needs all the tools he can get with the second wave of the epidemic approaching. They say the state's divided legislature move slowly or, even worse, can become bogged down in partisan gridlock over controversial issues.

Most recently Walz extended his powers until Sept. 11. So, that will trigger a special session in September.  And it's safe to say that session will include another vote by Senate Republicans to strip the governor's special emergency powers, and House Democrats will again block such an effort.

They're not limited to just debating the governor's powers. In July they passed a bipartisan package of criminal justice reforms in response to the killing of George Floyd. In September's special session they're expected to take up the public works construction bonding bill, a major piece of unfinished business from the special session.

Throughout most of 2020 House Republicans have said they won't supply the necessary votes to help the Democrat majority pass a bonding bill unless and until Walz ends the peacetime state of emergency. It remains to be seen if that will still be a sticking point in September.

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