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Minnesota Legislature passes its 4th COVID-19 relief package



MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The Minnesota Legislature approved its fourth COVID-19 relief bill Tuesday as state health officials reported nine more coronavirus deaths.

The House passed the package 103-31 and sent it to the Senate, which approved it 64-3 and forwarded it to Gov, Tim Walz for his signature.

The bill contains “mostly policy tweaks that we need in order for Minnesotans to live their lives during the COVID-19 pandemic,” Democratic House Speaker Melissa Hortman told reporters before the vote. But she highlighted a provision that allows couples to obtain marriage licenses online or by mail rather than in person during the public health crisis.

Other highlights include provisions that will: make it easier for health care providers to use telemedicine; cover some testing costs for the uninsured; extend various deadlines and expiration dates, including for mediation of disputes between farmers and creditors; codify temporary rules under which lawmakers can vote remotely and state agencies can exercise emergency powers and; make it easier for government bodies to meet remotely while complying with open meeting laws.

The Legislature earlier approved bills providing an initial $21 million for the Minnesota Department of Health, and $200 million for health care providers. A third bill ensures that first responders, health care workers and child care workers who serve the families of those front-line employees qualify for workers compensation if they catch COVID-19.

The nine new deaths raised the state’s total to 79. The department also reported 45 more people have been infected, taking Minnesota’s total to 1,695. As of Tuesday, 177 people were hospitalized, up 20 from Monday, including 75 in intensive care, one more than Monday. But 909 patients have recovered and no longer need isolation.

Health officials caution that the actual number of infections is likely much higher because most patients don’t qualify for testing. The state health lab and private labs had run 39,241 tests in Minnesota as of Tuesday.

New agreements between the House Democratic and Senate Republicans on legislation to address the pandemic may not come as easily as the first three. Republicans have been pressing Democratic Gov. Tim Walz to move faster to restart the state’s economy.

Hortman said Democratic priorities that have run into GOP opposition include: ensuring full pay for hourly school workers while schools remain closed; providing about $100 million in housing assistance for renters; using $13 million in federal aid for a one-time boost in payments to working poor families participating in the Minnesota Family Investment Program; and a switch toward more mail-in voting for the August primary and November general elections. There may be more support for allowing bars and restaurants that now subsist on take-out service to offer beer and wine, she said.

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