Bipartisan bill to strip the governor’s powers over schools passes Senate

A Shoreview parent declared in a press conference on the bill that Minnesota residents are “waiting for these crumbs of freedom [from Walz] that we already have a legal right to."

Sen. Carla Nelson/Twitter

The Senate passed a bill Thursday that would abolish the governor’s ability to shut down schools during a peacetime emergency.

The bill is authored by Sen. Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, and focuses on giving power back to local school boards and districts, allowing them to make decisions based on what is best for their students.

The governor may “advise and consult” with school boards and leaders, but may not take any action himself, the bill states.

The final vote from the Senate was 40-27, with two Independents and three Democrats voting to pass the bill. Independents Tom Bakk and David Tomassoni and Democrats Kent Eken, John Hoffman, and Aric Putnam voted in favor of Nelson’s bill.

Sen. Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, claimed Gov. Tim Walz’s school closures caused “great, maybe even irreparable, harm to a generation of students.”

“If local officials feel they can open safely, they should be allowed to make that call. A decision that consequential cannot rest in the hands of one person,” Chamberlain said in a press release.

Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said in a statement that all the science leads to the safe reopening of schools “for the academic and emotional health of our children.”

Senate Republicans held a press conference Thursday ahead of the vote on the bill.

Nelson pointed out that, in the time that has passed since last March, “we have learned the fatality rate is much lower than we thought, and we have learned that students are not spreaders.”

She noted that a “one-size-fits-all approach” is not beneficial for students, especially when there are 87 counties in the state that have different needs for their communities.

Kofi Montzka, a parent of three teenage boys living in Shoreview, spoke at the press conference, advocating for power to be given back at the local level.

Referring to the governor’s latest announcement allowing secondary schools to reopen, Montzka said, “We are all like peasants waiting around the king with bated breath. We are all sitting at our T.V. screens, listening … What is he going to say?”

Montzka declared that Minnesota residents are “waiting for these crumbs of freedom [from Walz] that we already have a legal right to.”

While the bill does not mandate that schools reopen, Nelson clarified in the press conference that it is obvious most schools care about their students and their students’ success. Local school boards need only to acknowledge how their students have fallen behind since the onset of COVID-19 to make the best decisions for their districts.

The bill will now be referred to the DFL-controlled House, where it will likely be defeated.