The Act Authorizes the Governor to Declare a Public Health Emergency
Provisions in Minnesota Statutes, chapter 12, specify when the governor may declare a national security emergency or a peacetime emergency. The governor has discretion in deciding when to declare a national security or peacetime emergency. During an emergency, the governor may exercise additional emergency management powers. The act expands the situations in which the governor may declare a national security or peacetime emergency, to allow either type to be declared when a public health emergency exists.
- A national security emergency may be declared when a public health emergency occurs in Minnesota that is caused by enemy sabotage or other hostile action.
- A peacetime emergency may be declared when a public health emergency endangers life and property, and local government resources are not adequate to handle the situation.
Definition of public health emergency. For an emergency to be declared due to a public health emergency, there must be an illness or health condition present in Minnesota, or an imminent threat of an illness or health condition, that meets two specific criteria.
- There must be evidence that the illness or health condition is caused either by:
- bioterrorism;1 or
- a new, novel, or previously controlled or eradicated airborne, infectious agent or airborne, biological toxin; and
- There must be a high probability that the illness or health condition will cause at least one of the following:
- a large number of deaths
- a large number of serious or long-term disabilities
- widespread exposure to an airborne agent that poses a significant risk of substantial future harm to a large number of people
Determining whether these criteria are met will require the governor to exercise judgment. For instance, the governor must determine what constitutes a large number of deaths or disabilities, what level of exposure constitutes a significant risk, and what substantial future harm means.
Requirements regarding consultation and notice. Before the governor declares an emergency due to a public health emergency, the governor or the state director of emergency management must consult with the commissioner of public safety, the state director of homeland security, the commissioner of health, other experts, and, if the emergency occurs on Indian lands, the appropriate tribal authorities. However, the governor may declare an emergency without consultation if the situation requires it. When an emergency is declared due to a public health emergency, the governor and commissioner of health must notify legislative leaders, relevant committee chairs, and minority members on relevant legislative committees.
Convening the legislature. The act ensures that the legislature is in session when an emergency is declared due to a public health emergency. Prior existing law required the governor to call the legislature into session when the governor wanted to exercise emergency powers during a national security emergency. The act expands the governor’s duty to convene the legislature so it applies to a peacetime emergency declared due to a public health emergency. Accordingly, if the governor wants to use the emergency powers conferred by chapter 12 during a peacetime emergency declared due to a public health emergency and the legislature is not in session, the governor must call the legislature into session. If the legislature is not called into session, the governor cannot exercise his or her emergency powers.
Termination and renewal of a public health emergency. The act provides that an emergency declared due to a public health emergency automatically terminates 30 days after it is declared. In addition, the legislature may terminate this emergency any time after it is declared. For the legislature to terminate an emergency, a majority in each body must vote to do so. The governor has authority to renew an emergency declared due to a public health emergency for 30-day periods. Termination of an emergency by the legislature overrides a renewal by the governor.
Minn. Stat. §§ 12.03, subds. 1c, 9a; 12.31, subds. 1, 2; 12.311; 12.312.
This and any related posts have been adopted from the Minnesota House of Representatives Research Department’s Information Brief, The Minnesota Emergency Health Powers Act, written by legislative analyst Anna Bonelli.
1 Bioterrorism is defined in part to mean the use of a microorganism, virus, infectious substance, or biological product to cause death, disease, or biological malfunction in a living organism. The agent must be intentionally used to influence the conduct of government or coerce a civilian population.