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MN Senate Republicans claim Gov. Walz exceeded authority

GOP senators cite a specific penalty mentioned in the governor's April 8 Stay at Home order extension.
Credit: KARE 11

ST PAUL, Minn. — Republican members of the Minnesota Senate have issued a formal letter claiming DFL Gov. Tim Walz exceeded his emergency powers authority in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

"As members of the Minnesota Senate, we are concerned about the executive branch’s interpretation of laws governing peacetime emergency powers and the enforcement actions taken against businesses and individuals based on recently issued executive orders," the letter reads. 

The letter, addressed to Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison, specifically cites the extended Stay at Home order issued on April 8, which stated "any business owner, manager, or supervisor who requires or encourages any of their employees to violate this Executive Order is guilty of a gross misdemeanor."

The "gross misdemeanor" level of violation is the concern for GOP senators. In their letter, the senators said setting sentences and punishments falls under the legislature's authority, and the statutes cited in the governor's order only allow for a misdemeanor penalty.

"It is an infringement on the legislature's fundamental and exclusive authority to define and prescribe the punishment for a crime," the letter reads. "Ultimately, this interpretation of executive authority is alarming because there would be no limitation to the severity of the punishment that Governor Walz or any other Governor acting under emergency powers authority could impose without any legislative action."


In addition, the GOP letter also notes Ellison's civil complaint this week against Shady's chain of bars and restaurants in Stearns County. Owner Kris Schiffler initially planned to reopen his taverns against the governor's executive orders, but later decided against it. The reopening was also blocked by a judicial order.

RELATED: Judge blocks Stearns County bar from opening - but owner promises to fight in court

The GOP letter states that while they appreciate that Ellison was not seeking the gross misdemeanor level of penalty against Shady's, they felt any civil penalty "sends a heavy-handed message to small businesses and workers who seek to safely reopen just like their big box competitors."

"We certainly hope this is not the message you intended to make and we stand ready to work with you on ways to safely reopen Minnesota," the letter states.

The GOP senators said they have approved a measure (SF 4511) which would allow businesses to reopen with safety measures guided by the Minnesota Department of Health.

The letter was signed by Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka and 30 other Republican members of the Minnesota Senate.

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