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A 4th Special Session for the 1st Time

By Elizabeth Lincoln & Elaine Settergren

Earlier this year, many believed that the first special session, called to provide the Legislature with an opportunity to reject Governor Walz's executive order establishing a peacetime emergency related to the COVID-19 outbreak, might last all summer. A 159-day special session in 1971 holds the record for the longest one. Like clockwork, four special sessions have been called this year as the peacetime emergency orders expire. These orders have not broken a record for length, but Friday's special session will break another record: the first time the state has held four in a calendar year.  

Even calling three special sessions in a year is unusual. The three special sessions called by Governor Arne Carlson in 1997 were for a variety of reasons--K-12 funding, flood relief, and funding for a baseball stadium. Those held in both 1981 and 1982 were all called in an attempt to solve the dire financial circumstances the state faced during Governor Al Quie's years in office.

As his peacetime emergency orders expire, the Governor has continued to call a special session. Once the special session convenes, it is up to the legislature to determine the length and actions taken. 2020 is a record breaking year and there may still be more special sessions yet to come!

How Long Will This Special Session Last?

By Molly Riley & Elaine Settergren

Senators discuss a bill on the floor during the 1991-1992 sessionSpecial sessions are often called after an agreement on budget or policy bills, left unfinished during the regular session, has been reached. In those cases special sessions typically only last a few days. This year's special session is being called under unique circumstances as Governor Walz extends the peacetime state of emergency and the Legislature is coming back without a formal agreement on session length or issues to be discussed. With attention not only on the state's ongoing work to address the COVID-19 pandemic, but also on policing, the state budget, and an unfinished bonding bill, some are wondering if this summer's special session will be a long one.

If this year's session does turn out to take several days or weeks, then it won't be the only long one in Minnesota's history. The record for the longest special session in state history was set in 1971. It spanned 159 calendar days, though included a 74-day recess in the summer and early fall. Students of Minnesota history will quickly remember that the legislation that came out of the 1971 Special Session was dubbed the "Minnesota Miracle," when the state enacted changes to property tax laws and school financing.

You can read more about the mechanics of special sessions in Special Sessions of the Minnesota Legislature and Making Laws, from the House Research Department. 

Photo: Senators discuss a bill on the floor during the 1991-1992 session. This photo is one of 200 Senate photos from the 1970s to the 1990s included in the Minnesota Digital Library.

The 1918-1919 Influenza in Minnesota

By Molly Riley & Elaine Settergren

Victory Celebration Postponed in Minneapolis due to Influenza - Minneapolis Morning Tribune, November 13, 1918.Outbreaks of influenza (flu), poliomyelitis (polio), diphtheria, and typhoid fever have all impacted Minnesota, especially in the earlier days of statehood. Amidst the current COVID-19 pandemic, many have wondered about the state’s response to the influenza outbreak of 1918-1919.  

During that outbreak, the first case of flu was discovered in Minnesota in September 1918 and cases peaked during the fall of 1918. In The People’s Heath: A History of Public Health in Minnesota to 1948, author Philip D. Jordan chronicles how flu impacted the state.   

He describes measures taken then that echo our current circumstances in many ways. In 1918, large public gatherings in churches and theaters were prohibited for a time, and health officials strongly recommended schools close, though not all schools did. Dr. Henry Bracken, the head of the State Board of Health, ordered that flu patients could not ride trains without wearing a mask. According to Jordan, public places in Minneapolis, like saloons and soda fountains, remained closed during Armistice Day celebrations in November. 

The Legislature did not meet in 1918 because they only met in odd-numbered years in those days. In 1919, the Legislature met in regular session from January 7 to April 24. Although the Legislature passed a few bills related to public health during the 1919 session (see Laws of Minnesota 1919, chap. 38 and chap. 479), we haven’t been able to determine if those laws were passed in direct response to the flu outbreak. Likewise, there is little reported in the paper about any direct actions taken by the Legislature in 1919 to address the outbreak. In those days, it seems to have been more common for local health departments, sometimes in conjunction with the State Board of Health, to play a leading role in responding to public health issues.

These sources offer a deeper dive into how the influenza outbreak of 1918-1919 impacted Minnesota: 

Legislative Proceedings in Unusual Circumstances

By Molly Riley, Elaine Settergren, and Elizabeth Lincoln

Senate Floor Session showing social distancing, April 7, 2020A few years ago we wrote about the rare occasions the Legislature has met in session outside a State Capitol building. Minnesota has had three Capitol buildings, all located in St. Paul, since the first was built in 1853. In 1881, after the first State Capitol caught fire, the Legislature met in Market House in downtown St. Paul. During the most recent renovations to our current Capitol, the House and Senate held floor sessions in committee hearing rooms in the State Office Building and the Minnesota Senate Building, reconfigured into chambers to suit the needs of a floor session. 

While we haven't found any evidence that the House or Senate have ever held floor sessions outside the city of St. Paul, the Legislature has held committee and informational hearings outside St. Paul many times over the years, including this year. The House and Senate have also held mini-sessions throughout the state.

In all these cases - floor sessions, committee hearings, informational hearings, mini-sessions - participation has largely been an in-person affair. But as the Legislature seeks to adhere to social distancing guidelines in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, this session has looked much different.

The pandemic has prompted unusual House and Senate floor sessions this week. Senators rotated into the chamber in small groups to cast votes on a bill. The House allowed members to participate remotely by phone. It has not been unusual to see legislators and staff wearing face masks.

And last week the House of Representatives held its first hearing primarily through "remote participation" by both legislators and testifiers. The newly established House Rule 10.01 makes this possible, and the House Rules and Legislative Administration Committee was the first House committee to hold a meeting since the rule was adopted.

The Senate has also been holding meetings remotely. The Senate’s COVID-19 Response Working Group has scheduled several meetings to discuss aspects of the global pandemic, using videoconferencing software to facilitate and broadcast those meetings. This week the Senate adopted SR229, which will allow for remote committee hearings to take place in that chamber as well.

Photo credit: David J. Oakes

COVID-19 Guide

By Betsy Haugen

The Library has put together a new Minnesota Issues guide to state and legislative action regarding the coronavirus disease. To address this quickly evolving situation, the Minnesota Legislature and Governor Walz have implemented a variety of measures to address the impacts of the disease on the lives of Minnesotans. The guide compiles a brief history of action, provides statutory references, and links to relevant reports and news items. We are updating our COVID-19 guide daily.