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.
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.
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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.