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COVID-19 audit sought by lawmakers looks doubtful

Minnesota’s independent legislative auditor says he doesn’t have the resources to satisfy a request by lawmakers for a comprehensive study of the state’s COVID-19 response.

Jim Nobles

Jim Nobles

Legislative Auditor Jim Nobles told Minnesota Public Radio  for a story that aired Monday that he’s ready to hear lawmakers out, but that the scope of the request, combined with other projects his office is already undertaking, make it difficult to do such an extensive review.

“This one is so large that it would just make us drop a lot of other things that are also important to legislators and the public,” Nobles told MPR.

The request came in a single paragraph in a 67-page, must-pass state government finance bill that Democratic Gov. Tim Walz signed in late June in time to head off a partial government shutdown.

Republican Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, of Big Lake, sponsored the legislation and advocated for inclusion of the COVID-19 review during her negotiations with the Democratic-led House.

Kiffmeyer said an audit would provide some answers on how the state measured up and what lessons should be learned.

“I’m expecting it to go forward,” she said.

Under the bill, testing, vaccination, public outreach, contracting and predictive modeling are all areas that lawmakers who made the request want scrutinized.

Mary Kiffmeyer

Mary Kiffmeyer

Democratic Rep. Rick Hansen, of South St. Paul, is vice chairman of the Legislative Audit Commission, which usually picks topics for evaluation. He said aspects of the requested study would go beyond the usual expertise of Nobles’ staff. He said the request struck him as a political exercise by Republicans hoping for ammunition ahead of the 2022 elections, when the state’s response to the pandemic is expected to be a major issue.

Nobles said the possibility that the report could become a political football wasn’t a factor in his thinking.

“We work in a political environment and we touch on a lot of topics that potentially can be used for political purposes,” Nobles said. “So we know how to navigate in that environment.”


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