Walz gets some legislative pushback on closure order

man in green tie talks at news conference
Republican Sen. Roger Chamberlain speaks Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020 in St. Paul. Chamberlain said Tuesday Gov. Tim Walz should reconsider his executive order that closes bars and restaurants.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News

Some Minnesota lawmakers are asking DFL Gov. Tim Walz to reconsider his executive order that closes bars and restaurants in the state to slow the spread of COVID-19.

They say the move will be devastating to small businesses.

Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, said he has heard directly from many concerned business owners who are wondering if they will be able to survive the closure.

“One of the restaurants said, ‘we’ve separated our tables, we’re doing fine,’ Chamberlain said. “They’ve got no cases in their town, no cases in their cities. So, they’re wondering why do I have to close and maybe go out of business up here in the arrowhead or western Minnesota when nothing’s going on out here.”

Other lawmakers expressed similar concerns.

Sen. Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, said the governor’s declaration seemed premature.

“Ordering them to close, even for two weeks, will have a disastrous effect not just on our economy, but on thousands of hourly wage earners and small business owners,” Ruud said.

In announcing the temporary closure of bars and restaurants, Gov. Walz said decisive action is needed to curb the spread of the pandemic. He also signed an executive order to help idled workers receive unemployment benefits more rapidly.

“This is a challenging time for business owners, employees, children and families alike,” Walz said.

Sen. Andrew Mathews, R-Princeton, said he appreciates the governor’s goal. But he questioned the approach.

“Unilateral decisions rule out options for businesses and owner to make satisfactory adjustments on their own, Mathews said. “The Legislature should have bipartisan input into executive decisions when they impact the lives of so many people.”

Other lawmakers supported the action.

DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman said the decision was in the best interest of Minnesota.

“Social distancing and drastically limiting the size of crowds are critically important to slowing the spread of COVID-19,” Hortman said.

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