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Research & Commentary: Minnesota Senate Considering Action to Limit Governor’s Peacetime Emergency Powers and Protect Individual Freedoms

April 20, 2022

In this Research & Commentary, Samantha Fillmore examines a Senate File in Minnesota that would limit governor's emergency powers.

The Minnesota legislature has introduced Senate Fill 3035, a bill that would limit gubernatorial peacetime emergency powers as well as prohibit the imposition of various mask and vaccine requirements.

SF 3035 specifically stipulates that a declaration of peacetime emergency does not authorize the governor to require a business to close, preclude customers from entering the premises of a business, or impose penalties for continuing to do business or allowing customers to enter. It also states that a governor may not hinder the free movement of people or impose penalties for moving freely throughout or across state lines.

The bill additionally prohibits all school districts, charter schools, and private schools from requiring students to wear a face covering anywhere on school grounds.

Further, the legislation would make it unlawful for any employer to require an employee or job applicant to supply a record of vaccination as a condition for employment.

Finally, SF 3035 would make it unlawful for any person, partnership, firm, or corporation conducting business in the state to require patrons or customers to furnish vaccination or post-transmission recovery records. Any business that violates the prohibitions featured in SF 3035 would be rendered ineligible for grants or contracts financed through Minnesota state revenue or funds. However, the requirements in this legislation do not restrict businesses from instituting COVID-19 screening protocols in accordance with state and federal law to protect the public health.

During the pandemic, many Americans saw their respective governors wield unprecedented power with seemingly unlimited emergency declarations. This overnight shift in governance, coupled with a plethora of governors who abused their pandemic emergency powers, has left several states reevaluating constitutional statutes pertaining to emergency provisions and powers granted to the governor during a state of emergency. With SF 3035, Minnesota is no exception.

This change to the current Minnesota peacetime emergency statute is paramount to prohibit governors from excessively extending their state of emergency powers, as we so often saw throughout the pandemic. Creating this oversight affords lawmakers a voice pertaining to mandates that deeply affect their lives and the lives of their constituents.

Simply put, SF 3035 restores the authority of the legislature as a co-equal branch of government when it comes to peacetime emergency powers.

Throughout the pandemic, The Heartland Institute developed a set of principles that legislators could reference when governors began abusing their newfound powers, which include:

  1. Resolutions to immediately nullify an emergency proclamation.
  2. Time duration of an emergency order (renewed by legislature).
  3. Pass a resolution that requires the governor to call a special session to approve of an emergency proclamation if the legislature is out of session.
  4. Permit an interim committee, or group of legislative leaders, to extend or reject emergency proclamations.
  5. Impose specific limits to executive authority during an emergency proclamation. (i.e., restrict the governor from unilaterally closing businesses, closing houses of worship, etc.)

There is a clear appetite among lawmakers in Minnesota for restraining their governor’s emergency powers, thereby creating safeguards to prevent future gubernatorial tyranny under the guise of emergency declarations. Co-equal governance, checks and balances, and the decentralization of power are bedrock principles of American democracy. Yet, these fundamental principles have been AWOL in Minnesota since the pandemic.

Fortunately, lawmakers in the Gopher State are beginning to stand up to gubernatorial overreach by reasserting their rightful place as a much-needed check against the executive branch.

 The following documents provide more information about executive authority in a state of emergency.

 

Testimony Before The Georgia House Committee on Judiciary, Scoggins Subcommittee, On House Bill 358, Restoring The State Legislature’s Role In Emergency Management 

Testimony Before the Georgia House Judiciary Committee regarding legislative and executive authority in a state of emergency.

Andrew Cuomo Is Just a Governor, Not a God

Cuomo has issued multiple statements in an attempt to quell the backlash and frustration of New Yorkers and lawmakers in Albany to no avail.

Governors, Not Gods – A Heartland Institute Webinar

The Heartland Institute hosted a webinar on Aug. 27, 2020 for state legislators to discuss how they can rein in governors, who wield seemingly unlimited powers in the wake of COVID-19. For many months, Americans have been abhorred by out-of-control governors who have imposed draconian lockdowns, which have decimated small businesses and people’s livelihoods. For instance, Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been roundly criticized for his heavy-handed and ineffectual response to the coronavirus outbreak in New York, which has drawn substantial blowback. Cuomo has also attempted to coverup his disastrous policy of forcing elderly patients with COVID-19 to return to nursing homes, where they spread the deadly diseases like wildfire among New York’s most vulnerable. As the days grow shorter and the temperatures dip lower, now is the time to begin exploring oversight over dictatorial governors and restore power where it rightfully belongs: With we the people, not I the governor.

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Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this and other topics, visit the Budget & Tax News website, The Heartland Institute’s website, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database.

The Heartland Institute can send an expert to your state to testify or brief your caucus; host an event in your state; or send you further information on a topic. Please don’t hesitate to contact us if we can be of assistance! If you have any questions or comments, contact Heartland’s Government Relations department, at governmentrelations@heartland.org or 312/377-4000.

Author
Samantha Fillmore is a State Government Relations Manager for The Heartland Institute.
sfillmore@heartland.org @GRHeartland