Updated: January 04, 2021 06:57 PM
Created: January 04, 2021 05:53 PM
The Minnesota Legislature reconvenes at noon Tuesday without the usual pomp and circumstance thanks to the unusual circumstances created by the pandemic.
A fence still surrounds the State Capitol building and no members of the public will be allowed inside, at least not during the early months of the session. All House and Senate hearings will be conducted virtually. Floor sessions will continue to be a hybrid of in-person and and phone-in attendance from lawmakers around the state.
"It is not the same doing meetings via Zoom versus in person," Republican Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka said during a joint interview with the other three legislative caucus leaders. "You miss all the extra little meetings in between meetings because you're not together, but we have to do it and so we're committed to doing it. And I'm hoping enough people get vaccinated and we get far enough down the line by the time we get to that last month we're finally back working together and closing out the deal."
Democratic Senate leader Susan Kent says virtual hearings might actually make it easier for Minnesotans around the state to testify and watch.
"The possibility is it can be even better for people to participate remotely if they can do so in a way that's effective and gives them full access," she said. "And that's true for members, the public and all stakeholders."
In addition to balancing the $1.3 billion dollar budget deficit that is likely to take the entire five-month session, lawmakers are also likely to again debate whether Gov. Tim Walz should retain his emergency powers.
DFL House Speaker Melissa Hortman says she's in favor of it because there are too many things still happening that need immediate attention and decisions.
"The legislature doesn't work at that speed," she said during the virtual interview with the other legislative leaders. "Having hearings, having a bunch of testifiers doesn't make sense."
But Republican House leader Rep. Kurt Daudt disagrees and says the legislature can act quickly when it needs to during the lengthy regular session.
"We'll be in regular session from this point forward and can certainly do our constitutional job and rise to the need that this pandemic requires and do our job," he said.
The legislature will convene at noon on Tuesday.
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