|Special Session Today
The second Special Session adjourned early this morning. The Legislature was unable to pass a bonding bill, but did pass a police reform bill. Follow these links for highlights of the reform bill and more info on the Session:
Governor’s Press Conference, 2pm
- we can anticipate the Governor calling the Legislature back into a 3d Special Session the week of August 10th if he wants to extend his Peacetime Emergency another 30 days.
- House Republicans had said they would not vote for a bonding bill unless Walz agreed to rescind at least some of the emergency powers he has used to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
- “Hortman said the outlook for passing a bonding bill next month is ‘murky’” as election season approaches. The Governor’s comment later today: “…for three years in a row now we can’t get a bonding bill done…”
This afternoon, Governor Walz held a press conference to discuss various COVID- and special session related matters. Highlights include:
- Announcement on a mask mandate will come in the next day or two
- Announcement on fall school plans will come next week
- Special session was frustrating – while he was pleased to get some police reform measures passed, he is very disappointed to not have a bonding bill pass.
- COVID-19 response began almost 4 mths to the day
- 47,457 confirmed cases in Minnesota
- 1,548 deaths (only includes people with lab-confirmed positive COVID-19 tests)
- The number of confirmed cases today is up 350 from yesterday’s (Monday) count
- 266 are currently hospitalized with COVID, 112 in ICU
- 7-day Positivity Rate still below 5%
- In May, the Governor and Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm announced a five-point Long-Term Care (LTC) plan with focuses on testing, staffing, PPE, and other items aimed at slowing infections in congregate facilities. 77% of all confirmed COVID deaths in Minnesota have been in congregate facilities (note that this number is down from over 80% of total losses early on). Over 2000 facilities in the state.
- Early on, we were losing an average of 30 seniors/day due to COVID-19; today those numbers are averaging 1-2/day. “Though 1 or 2 is too many….” Definitely controlling infections.
- Commissioner Malcolm said reductions have been achieved in numbers of infections in congregate facilities and that the rates are still unacceptably high, though they have declined from 137 in late May to just 13 last week
- Nationally, how does MN rank in terms of death rates in LTC? When you look at data strictly from “skilled nursing facilities,” cases/10K population are in about the middle of the pack, and death rate is much less than ½ the average based on population. We track all congregate living, which is much broader (group homes, memory care, substance abuse units…).
Questions from the Press
Q: The number of Minnesota cases is down, but deaths are still most common in long-term care (LTC) facilities. Do you wish you had started an effort with LTC sooner?
Gov – I wish we had started everything sooner as a nation and state. The number of deaths is always going to be high in these facilities. They were 30 deaths a day at first, now they are 1-2. These are much lower because of how we are controlling of infections. Hospital- and facility-acquired infections are a high cause of death in even normal times. In lessons learned, it was hard to tell back in March and April exactly where our resources had to go. We were very, very focused on hospitals.
Q: Minnesota has had one of the highest LTC death rates in the nation. What do you say about that?
Gov – Actually, it depends on how the stats get reported. Here in Minnesota we are reporting a broader set of facilities than just nursing homes, so our number is higher. Other states report nursing homes only. The White House is now saying they are going to give tests to all LTC facilities, and we don’t believe that is the case. The company producing the tests actually also says that isn’t the case. The states have had to take this on, and that’s why we in Minnesota have focused so much on testing.
Comm Malcolm – in Minnesota we report memory care homes, substance abuse homes, disability homes, and we include all places that share congregate living of any kind, not just nursing homes, so our numbers do look different. We have now started breaking these out so people can see the subsets and do a more accurate comparison. Minnesota mortality rates are quite low compared to national numbers. We are doing infection control and PPE well here which has helped keep our numbers down. Restricting visitations and reducing the comings and goings of staff has helped also.
Q: Couldn’t lessons have been learned by looking at the State of Washington on masks and other preventive measures? Why didn’t you react more quickly to some of these things?
Comm Malcolm – remembering back where we were on PPE in March and April – we assumed the Strategic National Stockpile was going to provide a lot for us. That was incorrect and it wasn’t until April that we learned we weren’t getting what was promised from the federal government, so we had to rapidly ramp up procurement of PPE and create a State Stockpile of our own. Now we have a system for tracking and sourcing supplies from all over the world. We have actually come a long way. The national folks told us ONLY hospitals were going to get PPE from them, but then that left a lot of other facilities without the right supplies that we assumed would get them.
Gov – I want to jump in here because Jan is being so tactful. We as a nation need to do some real soul-searching about what happened here and what was promised versus what was delivered. We had no national strategy. It became clear states were on their own, and then everyone fend for themselves. You had the Governor of Delaware, whose wife is Korean with some connections there, rent a plane and fly to Korea to get PPE supplies and bring them back to their state. You can blame various governors for how they are handling things, or we can go back and try to make our national strategy work better. There is still work to be done.
Q: Switching to the bonding bill – earlier today, House Speaker Hortman and Senate Leader Gazelka were pretty pessimistic this morning about getting it done in August. What is your reaction?
Gov – for three years in a row now we can’t get a bonding bill done. Having a bonding bill is the most fiscally conservative move you can make, and the bill is supported almost universally by mayors, local people, and the public. It’s unfortunate that we can’t fix the highway in Henderson because [House Republicans are upset] I’m dealing with the pandemic and getting more masks fast. We can get PPE in about 48 hours under emergency powers, as opposed to in about 90 days if our regular systems and processes are taken. I feel frustrated for the building trades. My frustration is very high. In life we try to bring people together, it’s something I try to do. In a democracy, though, where it’s required to get [a 3/5 vote] to pass a bonding bill, it has been clear every year that Rep Kurt Daudt doesn’t want a bonding bill and doesn’t want those jobs. He always has a reason to not do it, every year.
Q: Is the bonding bill dead?
Gov – we can’t do the bonding bill in August so I don’t know. We have maintained a Triple A bond rating despite not doing a bill for so long. It’s awful that we can’t do massively needed housing infrastructure bonds given our needs. From the trades to the mayors to businesses, not getting it done was unacceptable. We tried to make massive compromises and so did all three other caucuses except the House R’s. We can’t do a bill in August because that’s when we are supposed to sell the bonds – bond houses like stability at that time, and if we are in session and there is uncertainty, they’re afraid you are just shifting money around. When you get ready to sell bonds, everything kinds of stops and settles, to do the sale. A bond sale doesn’t work in August if we are just passing a big bill in August.
Q: What’s going to happen with a mask mandate, and what about schools opening up?
Gov – we will announce on schools the week of July 27th. To the mayors across the state requiring their people to wear masks, we thank you. The mandate isn’t to punish people, it’s to protect people. A mask mandate in other places results in at least 25% more people wearing them. In states with one party control, it’s even higher. We will announce on a mask mandate in next day or two.
Q: Even with the largest cities already doing a mask mandate on their own, do you still have to do it?
Gov – yes, and there may be an argument to be made around regionalism, but people do travel from place to place so that’s an issue. The simplest thing we can do to get kids back in schools and open everything up in businesses is to wear a mask. My hope is, if you want to say you want everything back to normal, wear a mask. Republican Governors have been telling me that while they believe in personal responsibility, we sometimes have to help people be responsible. They are doing it in other places.
Q: Back on the session – can you share the offers that were exchanged with House Republicans, and what happened between you when things stalled?
Gov – I have a timeline of negotiations and will share it with everyone. I know enough now to keep careful track because people remember things differently, and I have the receipts to prove exactly how it went. On emergency powers, the mechanisms don’t work fast enough in our processes for the Legislature to make some of these decisions I’m making on COVID. No one complains when President Trump uses his Executive power, but when I do it there are complaints. There were 11 different meetings and many were extensive. I was not willing to say the minority members of the House of Representatives have the right to veto anything I want to do on COVID and exec orders. It doesn’t and cannot work that way. There comes a time in crises that things need to move quickly.
Q: On the police bill – community groups are saying it didn’t go far enough. On warrior training, the bill doesn’t get rid of it. It says taxpayers won‘t pay for it, but the police union can still pay and get it. What do you say?
Gov – this was a tough one and it wasn’t the way I and others wanted it, but the desire to get something done was great, and that means compromise. Don’t view this as the end. No piece of legislation is perfect. It is a process and an evolution. We moved legislators on the issues of warrior training and chokeholds, and that is great progress due to the fact the public is asking for it. We have the emotion of being glad to see something pass, but also the sense of frustration and anguish that we couldn’t do more in the bill. We will keep working on it. Families, activists and police representation were involved in this and at the table. It’s a good start and I’m glad we did it. We are the only divided Legislature in the nation, and that’s an accomplishment. It’s a shame that we didn’t get the bonding bill done too.
Q: On schools opening – with spiking cases around the state, does that weaken your resolve to send kids back to school?
Gov – the relationships between teachers and students matter a lot and I know that as a teacher. It does not weaken my resolve to want kids back in schools in the most normal way possible. I do have a responsibility, as the science evolves, to evolve with it, and do what we can get kids back to school safely AND be able to keep them there. We need to be flexible and are looking at various ways to do things. You’ll hear more on it soon.