ST. PAUL — The Minnesota Legislature is set to take up an emergency funding measure for hospitals late Monday, March 16, or into the early hours of Tuesday, March 17, before moving to remote work protocols for at least a month.
Details about the hospital funding measure were still in negotiations Monday evening, but legislative leaders said they were confident that the funding bill would pass both chambers later in the day. Hospitals requested $100 million to help offset the cost of the expense to treat cases of COVID-19, the illness stemming from the coronavirus.
And Gov. Tim Walz later in the day said he'd like to see a funding plan closer to $150 million to limit the disease's spread. A Minnesota Senate committee was set to take up the proposal late Monday night ahead of an expected floor vote. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives met at 11:30 p.m. before moving to partisan caucuses to discuss the plan, which had not been made public as of that time on Monday.
State health committee chairs were still working to determine whether the funds would be provided as loans and grants and whether the $100 million requested would be available, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, and House Speaker Melissa Hortman, D-Brooklyn Park, told reporters on Monday morning.
Leaders on Monday also announced they'd move to an "on-call" status for the next month after they approved the funds for Minnesota hospitals, which means they would move much of their work away from the Capitol to limit large gatherings of people and potential spread of the virus at least until April 14.
“By going into the on-call status we’re not stopping work, but we’re taking the time we need to fully understand all the facts as they’re rapidly changing,” Hortman said.
But they'll reserve their ability to work remotely or to call themselves back to address emergency funding and policy should they need more resources to dull the blow of COVID-19's economic impact on Minnesota during that time.
Hortman, House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, Gazelka and Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, D-Woodbury, on Monday told reporters that lawmakers would shift their work to teleconferences, increase social distancing and cleaning at the Capitol and attempt to limit large gatherings. Immediately after, they began rolling out the new normal at the Capitol complex.
Lawmakers began calling in for caucus meetings rather than meeting in person, sat 6 feet apart on the House floor and started restricting meetings with constituents, moving to calls and emails. Leaders said they were entering "uncharted territory" and were planning their actions following guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Minnesota Department of Health.
"The steps we're taking are necessary if we're going to bend the curve of the infection rate," Gazelka said.
COVID-19 is the illness caused by the coronavirus and as of Monday, 54 people tested positive in the state of 1,893 people tested. While most of those reported that they had traveled or been exposed to someone who had recently traveled, likely causing the infections, at least three of those cases reported Sunday said they'd developed the disease through community transmission, which means the cause of exposure was unclear.
State officials on Monday announced they would call for the closing of bars in the state and limit restaurants to take-out and curbside pickup options. A day prior they said K-12 schools in the state would close on Wednesday, March 18, at the latest and students would begin eight instructional days of distance learning. Gov. Tim Walz in his executive order provided an exception for elementary school children whose parents work in health care or as first responders.
Schools will be open to care for those students and will continue offering meals for students who qualify for free and reduced-price lunches. Education officials said mental health services would also remain available in the schools.
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