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Minnesota Republicans drop call to remove health commissioner, jumpstarting special session talks

The comment on Tuesday could forge a new path for $250 million in hero pay and drought relief that had been stuck at the Capitol.

Sen. Jeremy Miller 2021.jpg
Sen. Jeremy Miller, R-Winona
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ST. PAUL — Minnesota Senate Republicans this week said they're willing to take off the table an option to terminate Walz administration agency heads if it means lawmakers can come back to St. Paul yet this year for a special session.

The issue has been a key sticking point that delayed a compromise between leaders in the divided Statehouse.

The GOP move could signal a path forward for plans to send $250 million out to front-line workers, drought relief payments for producers and waivers that could relieve hospitals struggling with a surge of COVID-19 patients.

On Tuesday morning, Nov. 23, Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, told WCCO Radio that he met with Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm last week and would be willing to delay confirmation votes for Malcolm and other commissioners until next year. Republicans had sought to bring Malcolm up for termination after they disagreed with her approach to mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are willing to put any discussions regarding commissioner confirmations on hold at this time to get a special session done and continue to do those conversations during the regular legislative session,” Miller said.

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Miller in a later interview with MPR News said the decision to take commissioner confirmations off the table would be contingent on lawmakers taking up front-line worker pay, drought relief, waivers for hospitals, support for long-term care facilities and prohibiting state COVID-19 vaccine requirements.

MORE MINNESOTA NEWS:

  • Minnesota Pardon Board to commute sentence of woman convicted of killing newborn The panel met for its spring 2021 meeting on Monday, Nov. 22, after court actions delayed a planned June meeting.

  • Minnesota National Guard members to staff long-term care facilities Gov. Tim Walz is also proposing $50 million in federal funds for facilities. Minnesota is experiencing one of the nation's worst surges in COVID-19 cases.

  • Boardwalk's penalty for violating Minnesota mandates: $25,000 fine, 30-day suspension of license Owner reiterates that she was left with little choice and simply wanted to help her employees during a difficult time.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, told MPR News on Tuesday that the change in position could better set up the Legislature for a special session yet this year.
"The key was really getting past that divisive effort by Republicans to take out the health commissioner," Hortman said.

In 2020, the Republican-led Senate voted to remove former commissioners of Labor and Industry and Commerce. And over the summer, former Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Commissioner Laura Bishop resigned before the Senate was set to reject her confirmation.

Only Gov. Tim Walz can call lawmakers back into special session. And the governor has said Democrats who control the House of Representatives and Republicans who control the Senate need to agree to a list of items they'll take up once they get back to the Capitol for that to happen. He had said he would not call the session unless GOP senators agreed not to remove commissioners.

Walz told reporters at an unrelated news conference on Tuesday that he was open to calling a special session but was frustrated that lawmakers couldn't agree to COVID-19 relief efforts sooner. He maintained that he would wait to call legislators back until they had an agreement on key issues they'd take up.

Follow Dana Ferguson on Twitter @bydanaferguson , call 651-290-0707 or email dferguson@forumcomm.com

Dana Ferguson is a Minnesota Capitol Correspondent for Forum News Service. Ferguson has covered state government and political stories since she joined the news service in 2018, reporting on the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the divided Statehouse and the 2020 election.
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