Gov. Walz stands by emergency powers 1 year into pandemic as some question need for authority

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Exactly one year ago, Gov. Tim Walz declared a peacetime state of emergency as the pandemic response began in Minnesota. With that state of emergency, Walz was given executive powers.

A year later, the governor firmly stands by his decisions.

“Every governor used it. The United States — President Trump, President Biden — used it. We used it because it opened up a series of tools we can use,” said Walz on Friday.

More than 100 executive orders later – some included 20-04 that closed bars and restaurants; 20-05 that expedited unemployment benefits; 20-09 that delayed inpatient and outpatient elective surgery; 20-10 that combatted price gouging; 20-14 that put a suspension on evictions.

"What makes this peacetime emergency set of orders so interesting and so unusual is the fact that they’ve been repeating themselves month after month for the past year. And second, is that generally in the past, we don’t see the wide political divergence or disagreement, regarding their use," said David Schultz, a political science professor at Hamline University. "While initially a year ago there was quite a bit of agreement between the Democrats, Republicans and Governor Walz, very quickly the scope of it moved in very different directions. and what we saw in a few months was the Republicans repeatedly trying to undo the governor’s orders, and at the same time, the governor didn’t seem to be willing to reach out to be republicans to work out the scope of his powers."

Walz is very aware there’s been much controversy about his unilateral action.

"They would like me to do what Governor Abbott did, and say, we’ve washed our hands with it, and it’s done. Good luck. And it’s not going to happen because it’s not the best way to handle the pandemic. And when the dust settles on this thing, you’re going to measure us against how many people, how many people got sick. how does our economy get sick," said Walz. "This long emergency is because COVID is still here. I would just say, this with great emotion and optimism, nobody wants to close this peacetime emergency more than me."

As for the future, Schultz says there may need to be a precedent set.

"Once we get beyond the pandemic here, there probably is a need to have a serious discussion regarding, are there fixes that we need to place in terms of the governor’s pretty broad authority to act? Do we want to put some other checks in it? Do we want to define what it all includes? Again, I think the governor saying, I need to take all action that is reasonable to address the pandemic. But critics are saying, ‘reasonable’ is in the eye of the beholder, and we need some kind of parameters," said Schultz.

Walz has said he will extend his peacetime emergency powers for another 30-days starting next week.