Lawmakers take steps to keep Capitol safe from COVID-19

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Minnesota lawmakers are working quickly to pass legislation to cope with the coronavirus outbreak across the state while also preparing for the possibility of adjourning abruptly and going home.

"I would say we need to work quickly to pass what we absolutely need to get done so if we need to adjourn early we would be able to do that," DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman said at a news conference late Wednesday afternoon. That key legislation could include a package of bills the DFL proposes to address the potential impact of a widespread outbreak in Minnesota.

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The House is considering bills that would expand the governor’s power to declare a "public health emergency," create a low-interest loan program for health care providers facing added expenses, provide sick leave benefits for employees who are forced to stay home, force health care plans to cover testing and treatment for COVID-19 and ban price gouging on a range of goods and services.

In addition to that, state lawmakers are taking steps to keep the Capitol safe.

"We’re still functioning as normal, but I think right now everybody is just being careful," said Republican House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt. "Of course, I took a little extra time to wipe down my stuff today. My doorknobs, my chairs and tables just to be cautious."

The Senate is taking several steps to protect members and the public. The Senate chambers are now locked when not in session. School tours are no longer allowed on the Senate floor and senators are urged to have limited visitors.

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One House member said he’s seen a fellow lawmaker take even more drastic steps.

"I do know of a senator who when we were going to board the elevator got on first and said no, she wants to ride the elevator alone," said Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City. He said he understands her concern, but added, "If we all do that it’s going to be a long time getting up and down the elevators here."

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS talked to that senator later and she confirmed she’s practicing "social distancing" to stay healthy.

Earlier this week, the legislature passed a $21 million funding package so the Minnesota Department of Health can fight the coronavirus outbreak.