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In the Hopper: Workers’ comp; remote marriage; supplemental budget

Kevin Featherly//April 17, 2020

In the Hopper: Workers’ comp; remote marriage; supplemental budget

Kevin Featherly//April 17, 2020

Editor’s note: In the Hopper is a summary of Minnesota legislation of interest to the legal community.

Workers’ comp. First responders infected with COVID-19 need not prove that their illness resulted from the job, now that a bill naming the conditional as presumptively work-related has passed into law.

The bill, House File 4537 from Rep. Dan Walgamott, DFL-St. Cloud, passed the House 130-4 on April 7. Its companion was authored by Sen. Jeff Howe, R-Rockville. The bill passed the Senate 67-0, also on April 7. Gov. Tim Walz signed it the same day.

Projections from the state departments of Commerce and of Labor and Industry suggest the legislation could cost somewhere between $320 million and $580 million, House Majority Leader Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, told reporters shortly before the House vote.

House Speaker Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, said Minnesota’s portion of a $2.2 trillion federal stimulus package—about $1.87 billion—could help pay those costs. Other options for covering its costs include state taxes and “socializing” the expense across the entire workers’ compensation system, she said.

“We owe a duty to these folks,” Hortman said, “and we will find a way to pay for it.”

The bill came about as a result of what apparently were rocky negotiations between the business and labor groups that compose the Workers’ Compensation Advisory Council. At one point, Howe told senators, it looked as if it were dead. “It was heartbreaking,” he said.

Howe credited Senate President Jeremy Miller, R-Winona, with stepping in and getting negotiations back on track through round-the-clock discussions. Eventually, Miller said, the Advisory Council gave the final package its unanimous support.

During House floor debate, Rep. Peggy Scott worried about the legislation’s costs in the face of what likely will prove to be a significant deficit.

“It’s very much a concern to me, what all of this is going to cost at the end of the day,” she said. “I just want to make sure that we’re doing the responsible thing in the state of Minnesota for the taxpayers.”

Scott, a former Civil Law committee chair, also expressed concerns about the bill’s legal implications. She said that, as she understands the bill, normal rules of evidence would not apply to claims in court. “In fact, they may be something far less restrictive,” she said. “And so that gives me pause for concern, too.”

Winkler said that the bill doesn’t alter the rules of evidence used in court to judge whether a job-related illness presumption has been established. But it does shift the burden to demonstrate that from the worker to the employer.

The new law requires a worker only to show, either through a positive lab test or a clinical diagnosis, that he or she has contracted COVID-19, Winkler said.

The employer, in order to overcome that presumption, must establish that the employee was either not exposed at the workplace or that that exposure could not have been a cause of the illness, he said.

“It doesn’t change the way the evidence will be evaluated,” Winkler added. “It simply changes what the legal presumption is.”

Despite her reservations, Scott ultimately voted for the bill. The no votes, in the end, came from four other Republican House members: Rep. Cal Bahr, R-East Bethel; Rep. Steve Green, R-Fosston; Rep. Marion O’Neill, R-Maple Lake; and Rep. Linda Runbeck, R-Circle Pines.

Sen. Jeff Howe, R-Rockville, presents House File 4537 to his Senate colleagues on April 7. The bill passed, which establishes a presumption that a first responder’s COVID-19 diagnosis is job-related, passed the legislature with just four no votes. The governor later signed it into law. (Image courtesy of Senate Media Services)
Sen. Jeff Howe, R-Rockville, presents House File 4537 to his Senate colleagues on April 7. The bill passed, which establishes a presumption that a first responder’s COVID-19 diagnosis is job-related, passed the legislature with just four no votes. The governor later signed it into law. (Image courtesy of Senate Media Services)

Remote marriage: For the duration of the COVID-19 crisis, at least, couples likely will be able to apply for marriage licenses without having to appear in person.

A bill to that effect was heard in draft form by the House Judiciary Committee on April 8, though it did not go to a vote there.

However, it was included the latest COVID-19 response package that passed off the House and Senate floors on April 14. At this writing, that entire 36-page bill was headed to the governor’s desk for a signature. (We’ll cover more of the larger COVID-19 bill, the legislature’s fourth virus-response package, in Monday’s edition.)

Valid only during the present peacetime emergency, the marriage legislation does away with in-person requirements for submitting marriage license applications or swearing an oath.

It allows couples to mail, email or fax in their application, though it must still be signed by both parties. The bill also allows the use of audio or video for swearing the oath.

The bill was authored by Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover. It allows each local registrar to develop and implement procedures to examine parties upon oath and accept civil marriage license applications.

However, the procedures developed must be consistent with Minn. Stat. Sec. 517.08, subdivision 1b—except that the requirement for at least one party to appear in person does not apply. Use of electronic signatures must be consistent with Minn. Stat. Sec. 325L, the Uniform Electronic Transactions Act.

The marriage-license measure’s co-author, Rep. Jim Davnie, DFL-Minneapolis, said he has heard from a number of constituents who are eager to seal the deal on their planned marriages.

“Some of this in response to some of the stress of the pandemic,” he said. “They really want to move forward with receiving both the emotional and legal benefits of marriage.”

Becca Holschuh, an assistant Hennepin County attorney, told lawmakers during the remote Judiciary hearing that the legislation lets local registrars fulfill citizens’ constitutional right to marriage during the peacetime emergency while still performing their due diligence to make sure planned marriages are legal.

“There continues to be significant demand for marriage licenses, even in this time of emergency,” Holschuh said. “In fact, our staff are reporting that the demand is increasing.”

Remote registration would only be available during the peacetime emergency and the bill’s temporary provisions would expire on Jan. 15, 2021.


Supplemental budget. On Thursday, the House Public Safety committee will review a $37 million supplemental budget request that includes money for cops, courts and corrections.

The budget bill provides $4.5 million to the state Supreme Court in fiscal year 2021. That includes $3.5 million for courthouse cybersecurity and $1 million for a competitive courthouse security and safety grant program.

The bill also contains has $24 million for the Department of Corrections for safety, overtime staffing and community services, most of which would be spent in fiscal 2021.

That appropriation funds updated prison data collection, new body cameras for security staff and badge scanners throughout correctional facilities. It also pays for correctional staff overtime pay during fiscal years 2020-21 and adds funds to the subsidies paid to Community Corrections Act counties.

The bill appropriates $8.2 million in fiscal year 2021 to the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension to pay for rape-kit testing and storage, increased violent-crime lab capacity and violence prevention grants.

It also contains several policy items. Among them is a provision allowing the state public defender to approve counsel in cases where a district public defender can’t provide adequate legal representation. Current statute leaves to the courts the determination that substitute counsel is needed.

Counsel in such cases would be appointed by the chief district public defender and expenses would be covered by the Board of Public Defense, according to the bill’s policy provision.

The omnibus budget packages will be heard at 12:45 p.m. during the committee’s April 16 hearing. That remote hearing will be livestreamed on the House’s website, at

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