A recent executive order from Gov. Tim Walz provides state and local prosecutors with the authority to investigate “threatened violations” of the governor’s COVID-19 restrictions.
Walz placed new restrictions on bars, restaurants, “significant life events” and private gatherings in an executive order issued last week.
Unlike previous orders, Executive Order 20-96 grants Attorney General Keith Ellison as well as city and county attorneys the authority to “investigate and seek any civil relief available” for “violations or threatened violations of this Executive Order.”
The order also allows prosecutors to recover the “costs of investigation and reasonable attorney’s fees.”
A violation of the order is a misdemeanor punishable by a $1,000 fine or up to 90 days in jail. Employers who require or encourage their employees to violate the executive order are guilty of a gross misdemeanor punishable by a $3,000 fine or up to one year in jail.
In August, Attorney General Ellison brought an “enforcement action” against an Itasca County business for “carelessly” allowing “large crowds to attend its annual three-day rodeo.” Ellison’s office sought civil penalties of up to $25,000 per violation from the rodeo company.
A restaurant in Hastings, Minnesota, was fined $7,000 by the state in September because one employee was wearing a “non-compliant” face mask.
Republicans have accused Ellison of “abusing his power” by cracking down on GOP events, but Ellison has said that his office enforces COVID-19 regulations evenhandedly.