Monday, October 25, 2021

Walz calls for vaccine and testing requirements for teachers and long-term care workers

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – Governor Tim Walz on Tuesday called on lawmakers to approve a series of new steps to respond to the fourth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, including vaccines for teachers, school workers and long-term care workers. and testing requirements. , and measures to address strained hospital capacity.

The Democratic governor detailed his proposal in a letter to lawmakers that he issued after meeting privately with legislator leaders. He urged lawmakers to approve the measures during a special session originally envisioned last month to approve a $250 million bonus package for frontline workers risking their lives in the pandemic.

Negotiations on that plan have yet to reach an agreement and have missed a Labor Day target for completion. Since then, the governor has proposed that the special session also include drought relief for farmers. But Walz has also insisted that Senate Republicans have agreed not to use the special session to fire Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm, as some senators have threatened.

Walz urged lawmakers to approve a series of exemptions and implement other reliefs to allow hospitals, nursing homes and childcare centers to respond more effectively to cases caused by the delta version of the coronavirus. He said there are more Minnesotans hospitalized for COVID-19 than last spring, and only two pediatric intensive care beds were available across the state at the end of last week.

“The pandemic remains a public health threat, particularly among Minnesotans who have yet to be vaccinated,” Walz said in a separate statement. “There are many issues the legislature needs to address to keep our students, teachers, families, workers and communities safe. I urge them to keep our children in school and allow our hospitals, nursing homes and child care facilities to effectively deal with the virus.

Speaking to reporters at an event where he and Malcolm got flu shots, Walz acknowledged that lawmakers were less likely to approve his proposed vaccine mandate or any masking requirements. But he said he was more optimistic about his other proposals, including restoring or extending normal capacity and a temporary relaxation of staffing rules.

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Walz this summer allowed a state of emergency of peace, which he declared at the start of the pandemic. That announcement gave him broad powers to respond to the pandemic, but it was unpopular with Republican lawmakers, who accused him of overstepping his authority and excluding legislators from critical policy and spending decisions.

The governor said he did not plan to reinstate the peacetime emergency, but acknowledged that he did not have the authority to implement vaccinations and other proposals on his own.

The governor’s pandemic proposals received a decent public response from Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller of Winona, the top Republican in the Legislature, whose support would be crucial to any comprehensive deal. Miller issued a statement that did not mention him directly, only the issue of unresolved bonus pay. Republicans want bigger payments that will go primarily to health care workers and first responders, while Democrats favor spreading the money around a larger pool of workers and possibly adding more money to the $250 million in federal aid available.

“Governor Walz’s growing list of requests to get these dedicated workers bonus payments on time is not productive,” Miller said. “They took the biggest risk and kept us safe during the pandemic, and they deserve a worthwhile bonus check.”

But House Speaker Melissa Hortman of Brooklyn Park said her chamber’s Democratic majority is “ready to pay wages for frontline workers, provide drought relief, and assist our state’s health care providers with the challenges they face in the Delta wave.” The simple question for Republicans is whether they are willing to set aside partisan politics for a brief special session that takes care of these matters.

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