Parents sue Walz to lift ‘pause’ on youth sports over virus

Published 8:22 am Friday, December 11, 2020

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A group of parents sued Gov. Tim Walz and other state officials Thursday, seeking to throw out his order that put high school sports on hold to try to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Lawmakers meanwhile said they have agreed on $216 million in grants for businesses hurt by a governor-imposed four-week “pause” on bars, restaurants and gyms — under the same order that shut down organized youth sports. The grants are one component of an aid package being negotiated for a special legislative session on Monday, when the governor also plans to announce whether he will extend the pause beyond next Friday.

While the lawsuit plays down the risk of the coronavirus to younger people, two Minnesotans in their 20s were among the 89 new deaths from COVID-19 reported by the Minnesota Department of Health on Thursday, an unusual development in a pandemic that has mostly claims the lives of the elderly. The young victims were from Ramsey and Rice counties. Minnesota has recorded only eight fatalities among people in their 20s, and none in their teens, out of a total of 4,198 of all ages since the pandemic began. However, teens and young adults make up a large share of the state’s 367,218 total cases.

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Let Them Play MN argues in the federal lawsuit that the governor’s order halting organized youth sports is unconstitutional and asks the court to bar the state from enforcing it. The group says it has more than 23,000 supporters, including parents, coaches and fans. The lawsuit asserts that the order unfairly sidelines young athletes while college and pro sports are allowed, and that there’s little evidence youth sporting events have been major spreaders of the coronavirus.

“Minnesota kids should not be required to accept, nor will the law allow, arbitrary and irrational burdens. Minnesota’s ban on youth sports unfairly singles out young people for harm even though State officials are aware the decision lacks support in sound science or common sense,” the complaint says.

A spokesman said the attorney general’s office was reviewing the lawsuit.

Walz called the special session for Monday to approve aid for businesses and workers hurt by the four-week “pause,” particularly the closures of bars and restaurants except for takeout and delivery, fitness clubs and other venues, including theaters and bowling alleys.

Negotiators for the Senate Republican and House Democratic majorities on Thursday announced a $216 million grant program aimed at speeding relief to the hardest-hit businesses. Some could see the money land in their accounts by the end of the month if the full package is approved.

Grants to businesses that have lost at least 30% of their sales would range from $10,000 to $45,000 depending on their number of employees.

But the sides remained divided on extending unemployment insurance benefits. House Democrats and Republicans support a 13-week extension, while Senate Republican negotiators wanted to limit that to five weeks because a federal aid package being negotiated in Congress may grant an extension anyway. That dispute got bumped up to the top House and Senate leaders, who planned to meet later Thursday. Democratic House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, of Golden Valley, tweeted that there would be no deal for businesses without a deal on unemployment insurance for workers.

There’s been no GOP support for including a proposal by House Democrats and the governor for $500 one-time stimulus payments to low-income families that participate in the Minnesota Family Investment Program. Democratic leaders did not publicly say that would be a deal breaker.

Also Thursday, the state Department of Human Services said a second person in the Minnesota Sex Offender Program in Moose Lake has died of COVID-19. That person died Wednesday. The program’s first coronavirus death was Dec. 2. There are currently 20 active cases in the program’s Moose Lake and St. Peter facilities, which house nearly 740 sex offenders who were civilly committed to the secure treatment program after completing their prison sentences. It’s separate from the state prison system, which has recorded 3,331 cases and six deaths.