Minnesota Senate rejects Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley

Legislators returned to Saint Paul September 11 for a fourth special session to vote on Governor Tim Walz’s extension of the COVID-19 peacetime emergency. 

 Following a moment of silence to honor the victims of 9/11, both Houses pivoted to a debate over the Governor’s use of emergency powers, with the Senate voting to end the peacetime emergency on a 36-31 vote. The House rejected a similar motion on a 67-64 vote.

 The Senate took up three commissioner nominations.The Senate voted 33-31 to reject Department of Commerce Commissioner Steve Kelley, with Sen. Tom Bakk (DFL-Cook) and Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm) joining all Republicans except Sen. David Senjem (R-Rochester). 

Criticism over Kelley’s handling of regulated industries such as insurance and banking only intensified weeks ago as the department renewed the state’s appeal of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline replacement project. (The Senate confirmed Minnesota Bureau of Mediation Services Commissioner Janet Johnson and Public Utilities Commission Commissioner Joe Sullivan.)

Rumors are circulating that Gov. Walz is considering former Commerce Commissioner Mike Rothman and University of Minnesota law professor Prentiss Cox as Kelley replacements.

Also, caucus leaders expressed optimism on a bonding bill and have hinted that discussions will be ongoing in the next two weeks, leading up to the Sept. 21 end of the quiet period for the state’s bond sale. Whether a bonding bill will continue to be linked to passage of a tax or supplemental budget bill remains to be seen.

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