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Minnesota to ensure workers comp to responders with COVID-19

MINNEAPOLIS — The Minnesota Legislature will reconvene Tuesday to pass a bill that would ensure first responders and health care workers who are infected with the coronavirus qualify for workers compensation without having to prove they were sickened on the job.

Minnesota’s count of confirmed cases rose to 986 on Monday, up 51 from Sunday. The number of deaths attributed to COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, rose by one to 30. Of the positive cases, 470 no longer need to be isolated. As of Monday, 115 patients were hospitalized, up 11 from Sunday, with 57 in intensive care, up nine from a day earlier.

Legislative leaders announced the workers compensation agreement late Sunday.

The new rules will protect emergency and health care workers, including police officers, firefighters, paramedics, emergency medical technicians, correctional officers, nurses, home health care workers, and people who provide child care for the offspring of first responders and health care workers.

“We hope it’s not needed, but it is vitally important for these heroes on the front lines to know that this policy is in place to help protect their health and safety during this difficult and uncertain time,” Republican Senate President Jeremy Miller, who helped broker the agreement, said in a statement.

The House will convene at noon Tuesday while the Senate will meet at 2 p.m. to pass the bill, using some of the same social distancing rules they used when they met March 26 to pass a $330 million COVID-19 relief package.

Lawmakers were unable to reach agreement on the workers compensation issue then. Some objected because the changes hadn’t been vetted and agreed on by an official business-labor council that reviews changes to workers comp laws.

A Senate working group on the COVID-19 crisis was warned Monday that a state budget that boasted a projected $1.5 billion surplus would take an enormous hit due to the sudden drop in tax revenues, the increase in emergency spending and the surge in jobless claims. Budget Commissioner Myron Frans told the panel that the list of things he didn’t know about how big the impact would be was longer than he would like.

“We obviously know that the budget that we passed last May is not operational any more in the sense that the $1.5 billion surplus is literally not showing up,” Frans said. “Every day, less and less of that is showing up.”

State officials still don’t know precisely how fast revenues are shrinking because deadlines for tax payments have been extended out several months, he said. And while Minnesota has a little over $2.1 billion coming from the federal stimulus plan, “we just don’t know when or exactly how we can spend it,” he said.

State government is expected to get $1.2 billion in federal money, and nearly $1 billion was going to local units of government. Some of that can be used to fill holes in the budget created by COVID-19 related expenses. Frans said the state hopes to get guidance from the Treasury Department by next Monday and the money no later than April 24.

Also Monday, federal and state authorities announced a task force to protect Minnesotans from scams and other crimes associated with the pandemic. The Minnesota COVID-19 Action Team will be led by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for Minnesota, the state Attorney General’s Office and the Minnesota County Attorneys Association. The team urges people to report hate crimes, scams, or price gouging related to the virus. Attorney General Keith Ellison’s office has posted a complaint form on its website.