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September 7, 2021

Working Group Searches for Consensus on Frontline Worker Pay

The Frontline Worker Pay Working Group was created as part of the omnibus budget negotiations in June and charged with developing a plan to distribute $250 million in federal dollars to “frontline” workers in recognition of their work during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic. Legislative leaders and Governor Walz settled on the $250 million initiative as a compromise after House Democrats, with the support of organizations such as the Minnesota Nurses Association, included language in their budget proposals that would have retroactively restored paid time off that was taken by certain workers to either quarantine or care for individuals who might have been exposed to COVID-19.

The Working Group has met twice a week for over a month to determine how to distribute the $250 million. The process has been complicated by the number of workers potentially eligible and the administrative complexity surrounding the state’s attempt to distribute cash based on specific workplace criteria. Democrats on the Working Group have generally promoted a system where workers would complete an application for bonus pay that included information about the work they did (including the pay they received) and the exposure they faced. If individuals met certain criteria, they would then receive the bonus check. Republicans have, however, generally preferred a two-tiered approach that would prioritize health care and long-term care workers, but also include other frontline workers. Both parties struggle for details as the state lacks detailed data about the number of workers engaged in various industries (health care, grocery, day care, etc.) and the wages they made during the pandemic.

The Working Group has generally agreed that the bonus payments should be excluded from federal and state income taxes, if possible, and that the income should not disqualify an individual from other public support programs. Lastly, both sides agree that whatever administrative costs arise in administering the program should be paid for as part of a supplemental budget appropriation and not come out of the $250 million allocated for workers.

While the initial legislation established Labor Day (Sept. 6th) as the deadline for the Working Group to submit its final recommendations, most people expect meetings to continue throughout September. Assuming an agreement is eventually reached, Gov. Walz is expected to call a special session so the legislature can pass legislation implementing the proposal and appropriating whatever administrative resources are deemed necessary.

Leadership Changes Shake Up
Minnesota Senate

On Wednesday, September 1, 2021, Majority Leader Senator Paul Gazelka (R-Nisswa) announced that he was stepping aside as Majority Leader. Many political insiders anticipated this as Senator Gazelka has long been rumored as a potential candidate for governor in 2022. When asked about his ambitions for the office, Sen. Gazelka stated he was leaning towards running, but that he wouldn’t decide until after the State Fair. Senator Mark Johnson (R-East Grand Forks) will serve as interim Majority Leader until the Republican Caucus elects a new leader. President of the Senate Senator Jeremy Miller (R-Winona) is expected to seek the position while rumors circulated that former DFL Leader Senator Leader Tom Bakk (I-Cook), who recently left the DFL Caucus to become an Independent and caucus with the Republicans, is also seeking the job.

Last week also saw a surprise announcement from Senate Minority Leader Susan Kent (DFL-Woodbury) who announced that she is stepping down as minority leader and will not seek re-election in 2022. Senator Kent cited family concerns (including an aging mother in Texas) as the reason for her decision, but her handling of staff complaints of sexual harassment had been called into question in recent weeks and many within the Senate DFL Caucus began asking questions about her ability to continue to lead the caucus. Then-Assistant Minority Leader Melisa Franzen (DFL-Edina) even went so far as to step down from her leadership role in protest. Senator Franzen was one of three DFL senators believed to be vying to replace Sen. Kent. Other rumored candidates include Senator Scott Dibble (DFL-Minneapolis) and Senator Nick Frentz (DFL-North Mankato). However, this afternoon, Sen. Scott Dibble announced that he has withdrawn from the race for minority leader, leaving Sen. Melisa Franzen and Sen. Nick Frentz as potential options for the open leadership role.

2022 Gubernatorial Field Takes Shape

Senator Gazelka is not the only member of the Senate Republican Caucus to be eyeing the 2022 governor’s race. Last Wednesday, Senator Michelle Benson (R-Ham Lake) announced that she would be seeking the Republican nomination. Sen. Benson is currently serving her fourth term in the Minnesota Senate and chairs the Health and Human Services Finance and Policy Committee. Sen. Benson joins former state senator and physician Scott Jensen and a handful of others as declared candidates.

Please reach out to any of the Larkin Hoffman Government Relations team members with any questions. 


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