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Special Session Of Minnesota Legislature Next Month Uncertain

ST. PAUL, MINN. (WCCO) -- A once-likely special session of the Minnesota Legislature next month is now uncertain, after Gov. Tim Walz said he would reconsider calling lawmakers back to the capitol if Senate Republicans pursue removing the state's top health official.

Walz earlier this week said calling a special session would give him "pause" if Minnesota Department of Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm's job is at risk. His comments come after Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, suggested during a rally over the weekend that Malcolm should be fired by the Senate.

The chamber, controlled by Republicans, has the unique power to give consent to governor appointees. It has previously removed two, and earlier this year threatened to oust the head of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, prompting her resignation.

"In the middle of a spike of the Delta variant, at a time when school is starting -- the absurdity and recklessness and, quite honestly, the dangerous talk that you would get rid of the state's top health advisor and leader makes no sense," Walz said. "I'm not going to put her in that position."

The legislature was expected back in St. Paul at some point in the next few weeks to vote on $250 million in frontline worker bonuses. That working group has been mulling the details of those payments and had not yet reached a consensus Thursday ahead of a Monday deadline for recommendations.

MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm April 27 2021
MDH Commissioner Jan Malcolm (credit: CBS)

Sen. Paul Gazelka -- who is no longer majority leader after he stepped down Wednesday ahead of a likely bid for governor -- said Senate Republicans had not had a formal discussion about the fate of Malcolm should they come back for a special session.

"We'll see about the commissioner, but there has been some real frustration," Gazelka said.

Sen. Michelle Benson, who announced she's running for the Republican nomination for governor, said the frustration stems from discussions about an MDH program that's similar to a so-called vaccine "passport" showing proof of vaccination. A spokesman for the health department in an email said MDH is "always looking at ways to improve Minnesotans' access to their vaccination records," but that it didn't have anything "specific" to share at this time.

But Benson noted that while the list of GOP frustrations has been "accumulating," it hasn't gotten to a point where "she's actually violated something the Senate took a vote on."

Deal on worker pay also unclear

The frontline worker pay group made up of state lawmakers and agency commissioners has not yet reached a deal on how to spend the $250 million set aside to reward essential workers for their service during the pandemic.

Thursday was the last scheduled meeting for the group ahead of a Monday deadline for recommendations required by state law. The central focus of a September special session was to approve a plan of who qualifies and how much they will receive.

DFL and Republican members of the panel are still at odds over those details, but agreed that workers will apply to the state in order to receive payment and that the money won't be subject to state income tax.

House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, said the group would work through the weekend to try and find agreement, and that there would be another public meeting once the parameters are set.

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