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COVID-19 dominates state session

Troy Krause
While Rep. Paul Torkelson and Sen. Gary Dahms were not able to host a traditional town hall following the 2020 session, they did communicate with the public via a radio forum.

When the 2020 Minnesota legislative session began earlier this year, no one would have anticipated what would take up most of the discussion by the time the session came to an end.

“COVID-19 dominated the session,” said District 16B State Rep. Paul Torkelson.

Torkelson and District 16 Sen. Gary Dahms stopped in Redwood Falls May 27.

After conducting a town hall meeting via radio, the two legislators who represent much of the Redwood area talked about what had been accomplished in St. Paul with this reporter.

According to Dahms and Torkelson, there were plenty of grand plans when the session started, as there were in the area of 4,500 bills introduced by legislators.

That, added Torkelson is a record, as was the number of bills that were actually sent to the governor – representing a new session low.

The reduction in bills really was a refreshing change in St. Paul, Dahms and Torkelson said, as the four caucuses agreed early into the session, as more and more of the topics centered on coronavirus, that bills would only be introduced that all of the caucuses would agree to introduce.

Dahms added time was used much more efficiently, as leaders agreed on realistic proposals leaving many other ideas on the shelf to be debated another day.

“We were really able to focus on the work in front of us,” said Torkelson.

One of the challenges legislators experienced had to do with social distancing practices, as the number of people actually on the floor was limited.

Others spent time in nearby meeting rooms, while some spent much more of their days communicating from a greater distance. 

Torkelson said while having online meetings has allowed for some efficiencies, they would not want to do it long-term, as it takes out the personal interaction with fellow legislators.

As the session ended without a bonding bill, there is a chance that the legislature will hold a special session, but that can only be called by the governor.

“I would say that a special session is more likely than not,” said Dahms.