Gazelka: ‘Essential’ Capitol workers should get faster COVID-19 shots

Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka
Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-East Gull Lake.
Glenn Stubbe | Star Tribune via AP

Updated at 4:00 p.m.

The top Republican in the Minnesota Legislature suggested Friday that some Capitol employees be considered for quicker COVID-19 vaccination as a way to facilitate more in-person meetings.

In a forum hosted by Fluence Media, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said he expects the 2021 session to be done in hybrid fashion with some hearings done virtually and others in person. Much of the legislative activity since March has been done in remote fashion or with limited attendance by lawmakers.

Gazelka, of East Gull Lake, said the contour of the upcoming session will depend somewhat on the pace of vaccinations.

“And I’m encouraging the vaccines as one of the priority groups after elderly and some of our frontline workers that we think about the people who have to be essential at the Capitol,” Gazelka said.

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Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, said while she appreciates the sentiment, she is worried about conducting too much state business in person early next year. 

Kent said drawing people to the building to participate in public policy will only risk greater virus spread.

“We have an obligation to our own communities. If we come together and if people come to the Legislature and intermingle and go back to all over the state of Minnesota, that’s how spread happens,” she said, adding that lawmakers have an obligation “to make sure we’re not irresponsibly being a vector to the spread of this disease.”

House Minority Leader Kurt Daudt, R-Zimmerman, said he will take the vaccine at the first opportunity to demonstrate his confidence in it. But he said he expects to be low on the priority list as someone in his 40s who lives alone and doesn’t fall into a risk category.

“If at some point we need to vaccinate anybody in the Legislature who is themselves high risk or has someone high risk living in their household, employees or whatever, if that helps us get back in person sooner, I would support that,” Daudt said.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, also took part in the forum but didn’t weigh in on the vaccination question. She said lawmakers need to significantly narrow the agenda to manage a budget-setting session during the ongoing pandemic.

On Twitter, DFL Rep. Mike Howard of Richfield said there is no circumstance where lawmakers should jump the line to get vaccinated.

“Front line workers, teachers and most vulnerable first. And the general public too for that matter,” Howard wrote. “It is inappropriate for legislators to receive preferential treatment for a vaccine. Full stop.”

On a call with reporters later Friday, Gov. Tim Walz said he didn’t know where he’d fall in the line for vaccination but doesn’t expect to be toward the front.

“I’ll tell you if it were by public opinion I’m pretty certain the public is not going to put politicians as a priority list,” Walz said.