House GOP offers plan to reopen hospitality businesses, DFL has plan to protect workers

Tom Hauser
Updated: February 08, 2021 07:33 PM
Created: February 08, 2021 06:39 PM

Even as COVID-19 case numbers decline and the hospitalization situation improves in Minnesota, the hospitality industry remains in crisis. In response, a Republican lawmaker has proposed a timeline to get bars, restaurants, hotels and event centers to expand their capacity.

“With case counts reaching near record lows, it is time to set the stage and communicate to Minnesotans and businesses that we can begin reopening,” said Republican Rep. Dave Baker of Willmar. “Businesses need time to plan and leaders need to be empowered to make decisions to ensure our economy can get moving again while we continue to take appropriate measures to protect individuals."

Liz Rammer of Hospitality Minnesota says 116,000 Minnesotans in the hospitality industry have lost jobs during the pandemic and more are at risk. She says if capacity in bars, restaurants and event centers isn't allowed to increase soon, about half the remaining bars and restaurants in Minnesota could go out of business in the first quarter of 2021.

"No other industry has been devastated by the pandemic more than the hospitality industry and experts are telling us this is going to be a very long multi-year recovery," Rammer says.

That's why she supports Baker's plan for a three-phase reopening plan.

The first phase would start soon with capacity in bars and restaurants increasing to 75 percent (up from the current 50 percent) and event capacity increasing to 50 percent (currently capped at 150 people). In the next 30 to 45 days, bar and restaurant capacity would increase to 75 percent and so would events (capped at 250). Hair salons, movie theaters and fitness centers would also increase to 75 percent. By May 1, everything would open 100 percent.

The hospitality industry says it continues to lose business because there is no known specific plan to increase capacity from Gov. Tim Walz's administration. The general manager of the state's largest hotel, the Hilton Minneapolis, says he's laid off 500 employees and continues to lose business.

Minnesota House GOP calls for lifting business restrictions by May 1

We have groups canceling as far out as October and November of this year and taking their business elsewhere because other states have loosened their restrictions and they have a next phase plan whereas the state of Minnesota does not," says Ken Jarka of the Hilton Minneapolis. He says a big volleyball tournament was just moved from Minneapolis to Omaha in May because of the uncertainty of what will be happening in Minnesota then.

With Minnesota's COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations declining, Rep. Dave Baker said Minnesota needs a plan to add some certainty to businesses. "If everything stays the way it is we literally should be able to be open 100 percent by May 1," he says.

So far House Democrats will follow the lead of Gov. Walz and his emergency response to the pandemic. However, once the hospitality industry does begin to increase capacity they want protections for workers in that industry.

Rep. Andrew Carlson, DFL-Bloomington, authored a bill requiring large hotels and event centers, building maintenance and security services and airport hospitality operators to rehire workers they laid off during the pandemic.

"In short, this common-sense legislation will help stabilize an important part of the Minnesota economy as businesses and workers alike recover together from the COVID-19 crisis," Carlson says.

Both of these proposals will depend on the governor's next steps in his response to the pandemic.

In a statement released by the governor's office Monday evening in response to the Baker proposal, the governor's spokesman Teddy Tschann said the fastest way to increase capacity is to "crush the virus."

"Governor Walz has asked the Legislature to start passing mitigation efforts into law so we can prepare to end the emergency while preserving the progress Minnesotans have made to slow the spread of COVID-19," Tschann said. "As more and more Minnesotans are getting vaccinated, Governor Walz will continue working with business owners across the state to keep their businesses open and operating safely."

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