Minnesota Lawmakers Start 2021 Session Dominated by COVID-19 Pandemic

Minnesota lawmakers will kick off their 2021 session on Tuesday, a session that will be influenced in every way by the coronavirus pandemic.

The differences will be on display for Tuesday afternoon’s inauguration. Instead of House and Senate galleries packed with proud family members, the ceremony will be muted. Most lawmakers will be sworn in using Zoom video technology. The chambers will be mostly empty. Only newly elected senators are allowed to bring one guest.

Then, the work begins. Republicans in the Senate have already scheduled hearings over the next week aimed at getting schools reopened and to investigate the state’s slow vaccine rollout.

The Legislature again has split party control. GOP senators plan to hold at least some in-person meetings, while the Democratic-led House will conduct its business virtually. The House has installed technology that allows lawmakers to vote remotely using their fingerprints.

The public will be physically shut out of the process. It’s not clear how committee chairs will allow public testimony from afar. A security fence that has cost taxpayers $80,000 surrounds the Capitol.

At any moment, lawmakers can call a vote on Gov. Tim Walz’s emergency powers, which he has used to shutter thousands of businesses in an effort to control the virus spread. The GOP-controlled Senate has voted several times to end Walz’s power, but House Democrats have blocked such efforts in their chamber.

Two months from now when budget work begins, lawmakers will have to grapple with a $1.3 billion projected deficit. The regular session ends May 17, but lawmakers have typically needed a special session to finish the budget. If they’re not done by June 30, the government shuts down.

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