Minnesota legislature passes Covid-19 bill. What’s next this session?

March 30, 2020 • Lars Esdal

Covid-19 has quickly upended normal life. Minnesota students are experiencing unprecedented uncertainty and volatility as they adapt with resilience to new realities and challenges. Educators and families have exercised remarkable ingenuity and deftness to, literally overnight, prepare to serve students in new ways as physical schools close.

Amid this tumult, work at the legislature continues. Last Thursday, legislators came together to pass a bill designed to address the growing pandemic. The governor signed the bill on Saturday.

Bill provides $330 million in relief, but no E-12 provisions

The law includes $330 million in relief funding and flexibility for government agencies. Most notably, it creates a $200 million Covid-19 fund over which Governor Walz will have broad spending authority. Other provisions include critical support for housing programs, childcare centers, food shelves, loans to small business, grants to tribal governments, and more.

The bill emerged from a set of informal legislative working groups that have been meeting the last couple of weeks. While one of the groups was focused on E-12 education, none of the provisions they’d been formulating were in the bill.

It remains to be seen whether and when those education provisions—which primarily provide flexibility to schools, districts, and state education agencies in areas such as instructional hours requirements, credits, teacher licensure, pay to hourly workers, and more—will be signed into law. We urge lawmakers to prioritize the needs of students and educators as they continue their legislative response to Covid-19.

New rule could enable the legislature to work remotely

While legislative leaders described the informal virtual working groups as necessary given the circumstances, critics have questioned the legislature conducting business out of the public view.

Last week the House adopted a new rule to bring transparency to this virtual work. It permits “floor and committee procedures related to member debate and voting to occur by means of distance voting, remote electronic voting, or voting by other means.” It also requires such committee meetings to “provide the public with an opportunity to provide testimony.”

It remains to be seen whether such procedures will be used and if they would be used mostly for emergency Covid-19 related provisions or to conduct other legislative business.

What will become of other issues this session?

After adjourning last Thursday, the House and Senate are now under recess until April 14th, or until they are again called back into session earlier to act on bills related to public safety.

While addressing the impacts of Covid-19—in education and beyond—clearly is and should be top priority, it remains to be seen what will come of the other issues being debated this session. There will almost certainly be a bonding bill passed and there could be other deals worked out behind the scenes, especially to pass bills that have already been heard in both the House and Senate.

But, stepping back, there are really three possible ways the session could end, with respect to other education policy action:

  • The remainder of the legislative session could be focused entirely on Covid-19 relief, with little to no other major education policy changes.
  • The legislature could use new resolutions described above to come to finish work on other education policy provisions, virtually.
  • The legislature could focus on Covid-19 during the remainder of the normal legislative session (which will finish on May 18th), and reconvene later for a special session to wrap up other work.

At a time when most of the world is thinking hour-by-hour and day-by-day the reality is it’s too early to say. We’ll keep you posted as we learn more.

Stay tuned for another post in the next few days by EE’s policy director, Danyika Leonard, who will recap some of the progress that was made during the first part of this legislative session.

Stay safe and be well.