ST. PAUL, Minn. (WCCO) — A political standstill at the Minnesota State Capitol is preventing a special legislative session, putting the fate of bonus pay for frontline workers and drought relief for farmers in limbo.

September came and went without lawmakers reconvening in St. Paul, which was long anticipated in order to pass $250 million approved for frontline worker bonuses earlier this year. Republicans and Democrats, one month after the deadline, still haven’t sorted out the differences of their proposals on who qualifies and for how much.

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But now the scope of the desired session has widened, potentially further complicating a compromise in a divided legislature. Gov. Tim Walz in a letter Tuesday to legislative leaders said he’s seeking passage of frontline worker bonuses, a drought aid package and now new pandemic-related policies. He asked lawmakers to reinstate some waivers for long-term care services and requiring vaccines for teachers and long-term care staff.

He also wants uniform mitigation policies, like masking and testing, across all schools. Right now it’s a district-by-district decision since the governor does not retain emergency authority for statewide rules for schools.

“In the absence of a peacetime emergency, I urge you to move swiftly to reinstate waivers and enact other relief necessary to allow hospitals, nursing homes and childcare centers to respond to the virus more effectively,” he wrote.

GOP lawmakers have expressed optimism in reaching a deal on frontline worker pay, but in a statement, Senate Majority Leader Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, indicated that discussion of new COVID policies is off the table. Republicans have rejected vaccine mandates and have long criticized the use of the governor’s emergency powers.

“The growing list of requests from Gov. Walz is not productive towards ensuring these dedicated workers receive their bonus pay in a timely manner,” he said. “They took the biggest risk and kept us safe during the pandemic, and they deserve meaningful bonus checks.”

Despite his plea, the governor was not optimistic that any pandemic-related policies would pass. He called COVID a “litmus” test for the GOP, which controls the Senate.

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But on Wednesday, he still urged the both chambers to act. Walz has the power to call a special session and it’s unclear when—or if—he will. He wants assurances from Republicans that Jan Malcolm, the state’s health commissioner, is safe from being ousted by the Senate.

“You don’t like this plan, what is yours? Doing nothing kills people. Doing nothing shuts down buildings. Doing nothing avoids the science that we have,” Walz said. “I asked to be partners in this. And when we made the case and they were very clear they want to be a co-equal branch. Then do your work. We need these tools.”

Walz could reinstate his emergency powers, but that authority only be in place for 30 days before the legislature would have to vote to extend it.

On Wednesday, the state reported a test positivity rate of 10% and 40 additional deaths.

Separately, some frontline workers and DFL members of the decision-making panel on who qualifies for the bonuses held a news conference on Wednesday criticizing the Republicans’ plan, which would give $1,200 checks to health care, long-term care workers, first responders and a few more.

When asked about Walz’s other requests, House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler said he didn’t think they made it more difficult for Democrats and Republicans to reach an agreement, but that “in the end if all we can do is get $250 million out the door, we should do that.”

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Caroline Cummings