ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Sen. Andrew Lang and Rep. Dave Baker address pandemic response during virtual town hall Friday

Sen. Andrew Lang and Rep. Dave Baker were in agreement regarding the Legislature's role in the pandemic response and how to reopen businesses in Minnesota when they spoke Friday in a virtual town hall meeting.

111620.N.WCT.WearMasksWEB
Rep. Dave Baker, left, and Sen. Andrew Lang.
We are part of The Trust Project.

WILLMAR — State Sen. Andrew Lang, R-Olivia, and state Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar, addressed more than 100 people Friday morning during a virtual town hall meeting that mostly revolved around responses to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Baker said since the pandemic hit, he and Lang have been in contact with local health services and other politicians, including Democrats, to figure out how to mitigate the impact of the pandemic.

The director of Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Jennie Lippert, who also was on the Zoom video meeting, said Kandiyohi County has exceeded the state’s percentage of people who have received their first vaccine shot and are about on par with those who have completed the cycle.

021321.N.WCT.townhall1
Director of Kandiyohi County Health and Human Services Jennie Lippert addresses attendees about the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in Kandiyohi County.

“It’s been a busy and vastly changing few weeks as the COVID-19 vaccine rollout has been a big priority for us at public health,” Lippert said. “We have and continue to work closely with our health system as we manage the continuation of COVID-19 vaccinations throughout the community.”

ADVERTISEMENT

She said Kandiyohi County has given the first shot to about 5,333 or 12.5% of the total population, compared to about 10.8% statewide, and about 1,247 or 3.1% of the total population have completed the cycle in the county, compared to about 3.2% statewide.

Lippert reminded those on the call that vaccine is free and you cannot be turned away from a vaccination site just because you do not live in the area.

She said the county has received limited doses, about 700, of the vaccine and that local health care systems have been the main driver of getting residents vaccinated. She added that if you get the first dose of the vaccine, you will get the second dose to complete the cycle.

Lippert said as the vaccine becomes more available, it will be given to more people at vaccine sites throughout the county, but right now there is a focus on people in prioritized groups which includes health care workers, those 65 and over and the immunocompromised.

“Legislators are at the end of that list,” Baker said. “I wanted to make sure that we are not any kind of priority.”

Baker said that he wanted the Legislature to get out of the way regarding the rollout.

“We need to make sure that our public health locally can communicate directly with the Department of Health,” Baker said. “There’s enough people with their fingers in this thing to try to get it out as fast as they can.”

Lang pointed out that they have made multiple changes to laws to allow more health care workers to give out the shot, like emergency medical personnel trained in advanced life support and dentists.

ADVERTISEMENT

“What Dave (Baker) and I are trying to stop is having a vaccine sitting on a shelf and wait,” Lang said.

COVID-19 vaccines have a limited shelf life; for example, the Moderna vaccine can only be refrigerated for 30 days without being punctured before it has to be thrown out.

In response to a question from Baker, Lippert said they have a liaison on staff that reaches out to ethnic minority populations in the community and are hoping to create clinics to help further provide information regarding the vaccine.

Reopening businesses in Minnesota

Baker said he has laid out a plan which aims to have businesses open in stages and be fully open by May 1.

Baker said that plan includes ways to pull back should cases increase.

“We always have to keep in mind that businesses don’t want to be open if things aren’t safe,” Baker said, adding that an eye needs to be kept on hospitalizations. “Businesses need a plan on how (reopening works).”

Read more about Baker's plan here.

Baker said he is working on a series of bills to help the hospitality industry, including tax breaks to buy needed equipment and property tax breaks.

ADVERTISEMENT

“They have had twice the number of losses in jobs and their revenues have just been decimated,” Baker said.

021321.N.WCT.townhall3
Rep. Dave Baker addresses attendees during Friday's virtual town hall.

Baker also wants to address a hiring problem he says employers are facing; employees not wanting to come back to work because they're making more on unemployment.

“I think that we’re really seeing some crises out there where you’ve got companies that offer tremendous sign-on bonuses, some education opportunities, great 401(k) plans, you know, free meals," Baker said. "They’re really doing everything they can, but we are finding a real problem getting people that are getting some extra dollars right now on unemployment. This is a real issue for employers.”

Unemployment in Minnesota is based on net income on a person's most recent tax return and currently includes an additional $300 dollar per week for unemployment from Dec. 27, 2020 to March 14, 2021, according to the Minnesota unemployment website . A person's weekly benefit amount, before the $300, is about 50% of what was earned.

To make more on unemployment than you were taking home, you would have had to make less than about $600 a week, which factors out to $31,200 a year at $15 an hour for a 40-hour work week.

Path forward in 2021

Both Baker and Lang were critical of Gov. Tim Walz’s use of emergency powers that have been in place since March 13, 2020, but said many of the executive orders could remain once those powers are no longer in place.

“We believe that that time (to relinquish emergency powers) has come and gone months ago,” Lang said. “We can’t as a Legislature fulfill our duties to operate the state of Minnesota.”

021321.N.WCT.townhall2
Sen. Andrew Lang addresses attendees during Friday's virtual town hall.

Lang said $6.4 billion dollars have gone through Walz’s office without the Legislature being involved.

“That to me is, just as a citizen, that’s not the way I want to see my government run,” Lang said. “As a legislator, that’s sure not the way I want to do business on a daily basis.”

Lang said that the handful of attempts to strip Walz’s powers do not mean some of the executive orders would also go away.

“There are many (executive orders) that, in an effort to make the state of Minnesota not so horribly affected by this pandemic, that we would have taken steps to help,” Lang said.

Topics like the eviction moratorium are already being addressed by legislators, according to Lang.

“We’re going on a year under emergency orders,” Lang said. “I just think there’s a better way of doing business. We should get our businesses back open and there should at least be some goalposts where we can get to as a state and we’ve never seen those from (Walz’s) administration.”

Baker said he doesn’t want to see the end of telehealth medicine and wants to put it into long-term law because that would make things more accessible for people.

“We’re going to continue to work on this and I hope the governor can come forward and say, ‘Look, it’s time for us to work together,’” Baker said.

Lang also pointed out that they don’t want to completely strip away the governor’s right to declare an emergency, especially when the legislators aren’t in session, and would support allowing those powers to be beyond 30 days.

“I think last summer, you probably see us together hand in hand for four or five or six months before we probably are in the realm where we think we should probably step away from emergency powers,” Lang said.

The virtual town halls will continue to be held at 7:30 a.m. every Friday and both Baker and Lang are seeking feedback regarding the meetings from the public. You can register for the town halls here .

Mark Wasson has been a public safety reporter with Post Bulletin since May 2022. Previously, he worked as a general assignment reporter in the southwest metro and as a public safety reporter in Willmar, Minn. Readers can reach Mark at mwasson@postbulletin.com.
What to read next
Attendees to a recent meeting at a small country church on the border of Minnesota and South Dakota found armed guards at the church entrance. Then someone saw an AR-15, prompting a visit by the sheriff. It's the latest development in a battle for the soul of Singsaas Church near Astoria, South Dakota. The conflict pits a divisive new pastor and his growing nondenominational congregation, who revived the old church, and many descendants of the church's old families, worried about the future of a pioneer legacy.
Impeachment trial of Jason Ravnsborg lasts only a day.
Kernza has been getting some buzz in recent years for its multiple uses as a forage, a grain that can be used in the kitchen, and a plant beneficial to water quality and the environment. Alexandria High School in Minnesota is planting test plots to help its ag students learn more.