The Senate Republican Caucus expressed concern over the governor’s “alarming” interpretation of executive authority in a letter sent this week to Gov. Tim Walz and Attorney General Keith Ellison.
“Your interpretation of the scope of the Governor’s authority under Minnesota Statutes, section 12.45, is incorrect and inconsistent with legislative intent and with a more measured reading of the law. Most importantly, it is an infringement on the Legislature’s fundamental and exclusive authority to define and prescribe the punishment for a crime,” states the letter.
In particular, the letter takes issue with an executive order issued by Walz that makes it a gross misdemeanor for a business owner, manager, or supervisor to require or encourage an employee to violate the governor’s orders. Current law states that the violation of an executive order is only a misdemeanor.
“Ultimately, this interpretation of executive authority is alarming because there would be no limitation to the severity of the punishment that Governor Walz or any other Governor acting under emergency powers authority could impose without any legislative action. The emergency powers authority provided in Minnesota Statutes, chapter 12, is not a blank check for the imposition of criminal penalties,” the letter continues.
The letter was issued after Attorney General Ellison sued a restaurant owner who planned to reopen his six locations for business in defiance of the governor’s orders. Ellison’s office threatened the owner with $25,000 in fines per location, which would amount to $150,000 total.
“However, based on the civil complaint issued by Attorney General Ellison on May 17, it appears the executive branch does not share our concerns about the plight of Minnesota businesses,” says the letter.
Republicans believe the civil penalty sought by the executive branch “sends a heavy-handed message to small businesses and workers who seek to safely reopen just like their big box competitors.”
The letter concludes with a threat to terminate the governor’s peacetime emergency declaration during the upcoming special session.
“We certainly hope this is not the message you intended to make, and we stand ready to work with you on ways to safely reopen Minnesota,” it states. “In light of this recent lawsuit and the looming June 12 special session, please understand that the previous restraint shown by the Senate to not exercise the authority granted under M.S. 12.31 to terminate the current peacetime emergency powers has become tenuous.”
– – –