Minnesota lawmakers to return to Capitol to vote on new COVID-19 bill

Wearing masks during their recent sessions, Minnesota House and Senate lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are pushing hard in the fight against COVID-19.

“We don’t want to have arbitrary rules that don’t really fit this pandemic situation holding us back,” said House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley.

House and Senate leaders will return to the Minnesota Capitol on Tuesday to vote on a new COVID-19 bill, the fourth to be considered by lawmakers. Other members will vote by conference call because of health concerns.

Among the key issues: a plan to provide medical assistance to uninsured Minnesotans for COVID-19 testing and treatment.

"We still know there is a huge shortage for testing,” Winkler said. “But as more testing becomes available, we want to make sure we are covering as many people as we possibly can."

MDH: COVID-19 deaths total 70 in Minnesota, 1,621 positive cases

The bill would also allow the use of federal transportation funds for protective gear for transit workers. That would pay for masks, gloves, plastic barriers, cleaning materials, and even close contact training.

"We all know the shortages,” Winkler said. “We need to make sure as many of our public employees and front line workers are as safe as possible."

The measure extends deadlines for court filings and allows local governments to operate remotely.

It also gives Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm emergency authority to open temporary health facilities at places such as school gyms or armories.

"Health systems may be able to do other kinds of treatment in other nontraditional settings and save hospital beds or ICU units for the most important COVID cases,” Winkler said.

Full COVID-19 coverage

Other healthcare-related provisions in the bill include:

  • Calling for the commissioner of Human Services to ensure there’s enough funding for food assistance, youth mental health programs, education and training grants and emergency services.
  • Prohibiting health care providers from denying or limiting reimbursement for coverage of telemedicine services between a licensed healthcare provider and a patient.
  • Allowing respiratory therapists to be included in the list of health care providers.

Flexibility in the application of licenses is also part of the bill.

New Minnesota residents would be permitted to use their old driver’s license more than 60 days without getting a new one.

And good news for those making wedding plans: The bill allows registrars to accept civil marriage licenses by mail, fax or electronic filing with no need to appear in person.

"There is no reason why somebody shouldn’t be able to get married and have a new partner in the pandemic,” Winkler said. “We want to make sure as we are in this COVID-19 pandemic, that the laws that we have are not holding us back from our ability to service as many Minnesotans as we possibly can.”