Legislative Issues During COVID-19 Pandemic

Published: April 1, 2020

(Updated May 22, 2020)

Get answers to these frequently asked questions (FAQs) about legislative issues and COVID-19:

Q1. Has the state extended any of the city reporting deadlines?

Q2. Is motor vehicle licensing considered a critical service related to transportation?

Q3. Has there been any discussion about extending property tax payment deadlines (particularly for the May 15 due date)?

Q4. Does the stimulus legislation have any language for reimbursement for EMT/first responder expenses?

Q5. What flexibility do cities have in using revolving loan funds to provide emergency assistance to businesses? Can cities provide grants or forgivable loans with that?

Q6. Cities that awarded street projects before the COVID-19 outbreak may now be concerned about their ability to pay for the projects. Is the state considering any funds to encourage cities to keep doing projects despite unstable financial conditions?

Q7. Have there been discussions about changing how elections are conducted during the COVID-19 outbreak? (Updated May 22, 2020)

Q8. In light of coronavirus risks, is the Legislature considering making changes to the Open Meeting Law regarding allowing officials to participate remotely? (Updated April 23, 2020)

Q9. Is the Legislature considering extending any application processing deadlines for cities, such as those for land use requests, platting and zoning applications, and small cell wireless facility permit applications? (Added April 14, 2020)

Q10. What is the status of legislation prohibiting city utilities from shutting off service for non-payment during the pandemic? (Added April 14, 2020)

Q11. Are water and wastewater operational staff included in the list of emergency staff for the purposes of providing state assistance with child care and employment? (Added April 14, 2020)

Q12. Can restaurants sell beer and wine with their takeout food? (Added April 20, 2020)

Q13. Are we likely to see a bonding bill pass this session? (Updated May 22, 2020)

Q1. Has the state extended any of the city reporting deadlines?

A1. The Office of the State Auditor (OSA) has provided cash basis cities and townships with a 45-day reporting extension from the original March 31, 2020, due date. The 2019 information is now due on May 15. GAAP based city reports are still due on June 30, but the OSA is monitoring the situation. If you experience a problem meeting a deadline, you should contact the OSA Government Information Division at (651) 297-3682. The League will also be reaching out to state agencies for similar guidance.

—Read article: State Auditor Issues Guidance on Reporting Deadline Adjustments

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Q2. Is motor vehicle licensing considered a critical service related to transportation?

A2. Neither the governor’s stay-at-home order nor the bill to address COVID-19 deal explicitly with motor vehicle licensing. Under the COVID-19 legislation, the Department of Public Safety Driver and Vehicle Services Division (DVS) is given authority and funding to continue issuing driver’s license renewals. DVS staff that can do so will telework, processing applications and responding to public emails.

Additionally, although deputy registrar offices are ordered closed, they may still complete transactions remotely.

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Q3. Has there been any discussion about extending property tax payment deadlines (particularly for the May 15 due date)?

A3. There have been discussions but after considering the possible implications for the finances of local units of government, the idea has been set aside. There are discussions of allowing businesses to delay payment on a portion of their state property tax liability, and that would not impact the finances of local units of government.

Counties are considering waiving penalties on late property tax payments. Cities are encouraged to work with their counties to understand the impacts of potential county actions on city finances.

Read article: Counties Consider Waiving Penalties on Late Property Tax Payments

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Q4. Does the federal stimulus legislation have any language for reimbursement for EMT/first responder expenses?

A4. The federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act (H.R. 748) provides $850 million in Byrne-Justice Assistance Grants to assist local police departments with paying for personal protective equipment, medical items, and overtime pay for officers. Minnesota will receive $12.2 million in state allocation with 40% set aside for local distribution. There is also $100 million for personal protective equipment for first responders in the form of Firefighter Grants.

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Q5. What flexibility do cities have in using revolving loan funds to provide emergency assistance to businesses? Can cities provide grants or forgivable loans with that?

A5. Executive Order 20-15 only allows a local unit of government or lending partner that has revolving loan funds from Minnesota Investment Fund (MIF) or MIF Disaster program to issue loans, not grants. Loans can be forgivable but must be issued over the next 90 days and can be issued to retail and service providers.

State and federal legislation passed in response to COVID-19 also include assistance funds for businesses.

—Read more about state and federal assistance funds for businesses

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Q6. Cities that awarded street projects before the COVID-19 outbreak may now be concerned about their ability to pay for the projects. Is the state considering any funds to encourage cities to keep doing projects despite unstable financial conditions?

A6. At this time, the state is not considering providing funds to encourage cities to keep doing projects. If this issue becomes pronounced, the League will raise it with transportation leaders in the Legislature and administration.

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Q7. Have there been discussions about changing how elections are conducted during the COVID-19 outbreak?

A7. The Legislature passed a bill that outlines procedures for the upcoming 2020 state primary and state general election, and appropriates federal money made available to the state through the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). Gov. Tim Walz signed the bill  into law on May 12.

The bill gives cities the authority to:

  • Designate new polling places until July 2020.
  • Deputize employees of health care facilities to administer absentee voting to residents or patients of those facilities.
  • Begin processing absentee ballots 14 days before the election instead of seven, and up to three days following the election.

The bill would also allow the Office of the Secretary of State (OSS) to administer a grant program to political subdivisions to support several authorized uses of the HAVA funds via the Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relieve, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.

—Read article: COVID-19 Elections Legislation Signed by Governor

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Q8. In light of coronavirus risks, is the Legislature considering making changes to the Open Meeting Law regarding allowing officials to participate remotely?

A8. Yes, a new law allows an elected official to participate in meetings by interactive TV — commonly through Skype or Zoom — without making his or her location public when a health care professional determines that elected official can’t be in public due to personal or family medical reasons. This allowance is only when a state of emergency has been declared and can be used up to 60 days after the state of emergency has been lifted. The new law also allows an elected official to use the proposed medical exception only up to three times in a calendar year, which includes the current military exception.

Read article: Governor Approves Medical Exception to Open Meeting Law

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Q9. Is the Legislature considering extending any application processing deadlines for cities, such as those for land use requests, platting and zoning applications, and small cell wireless facility permit applications?

A9. Yes. The League is actively working with the Governor’s Office, the Legislature, and other interested parties to find a reasonable solution for cities.

Read article: Local Action Deadlines Pose Problem for Local Governments

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Q10. What is the status of legislation prohibiting city utilities from shutting off service for non-payment during the pandemic?

A10. The House and Senate have not come to an agreement on language that would prohibit cities from shutting off utility services. While the House has shown interest in doing so, Senate leaders have stated they don’t see a reason for the state to develop a new process for alternate payment of unpaid utility bills when each utility already had procedures they use for that situation. Therefore, unless significant changes are made to the legislation, it is unlikely to be addressed by the Legislature.

Read article: Utility Shut-Off Prohibition Fails to Get Legislative Agreement

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Q11. Are water and wastewater operational staff included in the list of emergency staff for the purposes of providing state assistance with child care and employment?

A11. Yes. Gov. Walz’s initial stay at home order, Executive Order 20-20 (6e), lists water and wastewater operational staff as workers in the critical sector and, thus, they are included.

—Read article: League Working With State to Address Water and Wastewater Concerns

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Q12. Can restaurants sell beer and wine with their takeout food?

A12. Yes, starting April 18 and through the ending of the Stay at Home Order, restaurants that currently hold certain liquor licenses can sell alcohol with takeout meals. Alcoholic beverages must be sold in the original, unopened packing and the restaurant must confirm that the person picking up the takeout order is at least 21 years of age.

The law limits the amount of alcohol that may be sold with any single order to 72 ounces (total) of malt liquor, hard seltzer, or cider; and 750 milliliters (ml) of wine. For reference, a traditional can size is 12 ounces, and a bottle of wine is often 750 ml, so this is likely a six-pack and a bottle of wine.

All other provisions of Minnesota liquor laws still apply. The legislation does not allow for restaurants to deliver alcoholic beverages, but only to sell beverages with a takeout order that includes prepared food. It also does not change any existing law that applies to licensed brewers.

Cities may opt out: The new bill provides that cities may opt out of this measure and thereby prohibit the off-sale of liquor by restaurants without an off-sale license. While the bill does not explicitly state whether a resolution or ordinance is required to opt out, the bill’s author, Sen. Karin Housely (R-St. Mary’s Point), stated on the Senate floor that the intent was that cities could override this authority by resolution. For cities that wish to opt out of this new, temporary off-sale authority for restaurants providing takeout, the League has provided a model resolution (doc)

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Q13. Are we likely to see a bonding bill pass this session?

A13. No Bonding bill passed in either body during the regular legislative session. However, the Legislature is expected to reconvene on June 12 for a special session, in which the bonding bill will be a top priority. The House version, HF 2529 (Rep. Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown), includes $2.52 billion in total spending that closely mirrors Gov. Tim Walz’s bonding recommendations. In addition to $1.8 million in total general obligation bonds — which includes assistance to state agencies, numerous local projects, and public housing assistance — the bill includes $102.1 million in trunk highway bonds and $214 million in housing infrastructure bonds. Meanwhile, the Senate version, SF 3463 (Sen. Dave Senjem, R-Rochester), includes $998 million in spending, mostly for earmarked projects. Negotiations are ongoing.

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—Access more COVID-19 News and Resources