The Minnesota Legislature passed a $330 million omnibus bill this week to address the coronavirus pandemic, but some Republican lawmakers were frustrated with the unprecedented lack of transparency in the process.
The bill includes a broad range of budget items and policy proposals, the most substantial of which is a $200 million appropriation for a COVID-19 Fund. Minnesota Management and Budget will be able to disperse money from the fund to state agencies responding to the pandemic.
Another $30 million will be used to create a small business emergency loan program while $29 million will support a grant program for child care providers.
One budget item includes $11 million in assistance for Minnesota’s 11 tribal nations, which Rep. Cal Bahr (R-East Bethel) called a bailout for tribal casinos.
Bahr was one of just four lawmakers in both the House and Senate to vote against the bill. In fact, zero Republicans voted against the bill in the Senate, which voted 67-0 to send the bill to Gov. Tim Walz.
Bahr and his fellow members of the New House Republican Caucus said the omnibus bill “had even less transparency than usual,” since no part of it went through a committee process or received a public hearing.
“We had mere moments to read a bill that was arrived at by phone conferences not open to the public, nor any member of the media. It was another cut and paste omnibus bill with high priority items sandwiched between items that seemed a lot less critical or at least not particularly worthy of such a high priority bill,” Bahr said in a statement.
Rep. Jeremy Munson (R-Lake Crystal) said the primary goal of House leadership “seemed to be to break all land speed records” in passing the bill off the floor.
“There was zero transparency. Even as a member of the House, I only received a copy of the bill after the session started. Journalists and citizens alike were kept out of the process. And although it was only 33 pages long, we were again presented with an omnibus bill with many different subjects, cut and pasted into a single bill,” Munson continued.
Both lawmakers were dismayed by the fact that some provisions in the bill will remain in effect until the middle of next year.
“In general, the last few weeks have demonstrated how much power the government holds over the lives of the citizenry. By having to get a permission slip from the government to work at all, not just trade-specific permits, the government can stop anybody’s activities at any time for any reason,” Bahr added. “This is not a free market, and yet we hear repeatedly that the free market system is failing. How would we know? We haven’t employed the free market system for decades, and here now is proof.”
Gov. Walz announced on Twitter Saturday morning that he signed the bill into law from the Governor’s Residence.
“Proud of the way the Legislature worked across the aisle to get this done,” he said.
🖊️Just signed a comprehensive COVID-19 package to keep Minnesota healthy, support our food systems, and care for our most vulnerable in the face on an unprecedented crisis.
— Governor Tim Walz (@GovTimWalz) March 28, 2020
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