Talk begins about post-COVID rules for Minnesota Legislature

Published 9:04 am Thursday, July 22, 2021

By Brian Bakst, Minnesota Public Radio News

Minnesota lawmakers have started discussing how to recalibrate pandemic-related accommodations for members and the public heading into future sessions.

In-person attendance by state lawmakers has been either restricted or considered optional amid COVID-19 concerns. Now that the Legislature is on its first extended break since early 2020, legislators are reassessing what remote activities should remain.

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake, invited the input Wednesday toward the tail end of a Rules Committee hearing.

“What do we do in this new era where we can use Zoom, how we managed through COVID?” Gazelka asked. “What do we want to keep from what we’ve been doing the last year?”

He said he wants as much interaction among lawmakers as possible but left the door open to other options.

Sen. Warren Limmer, R-Maple Grove, said there is value in face-to-face contact for legislators.

“In the last 10 years, I think we as caucus members have come to the Senate kind of as two warring camps ready to do battle in a public arena,” Limmer said. “And quite honestly, a little more relation building would be a good thing.”

The House built a secured remote voting system for the 2021 session and allowed members to speak via video link or by phone during floor debates. The Senate allowed only members who were in person to speak on bills and had those not at the Capitol relay their votes through leadership.

Limmer and others said they support a continued hybrid setup when it comes to public testimony. Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, said those kinds of remote options should stay even if physical attendance by members returns to normal.

“To ask some of our stakeholders like teachers and health care providers to leave their important work for a full day to drive down here and testify for two minutes and then drive back, that may not be in peoples’ best interest,” Kent said.

Lawmakers intend to further examine the rules this fall, but probably won’t arrive at a decision until after an expected September special session. The 2022 regular session begins in late January.