State representatives for Douglas County blast Walz for 'threatening' restaurants with fines

“The last thing we need in Minnesota is an adversarial relationship between hard-working hospitality folks and our government,” said Rep. Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck.

Three state representatives for Douglas County joined 49 other Republican lawmakers in signing a letter to Gov. Tim Walz this week opposing his efforts to increase compliance checks at restaurants.

Last week, the Minnesota Department of Health and the Department of Labor and Industry informed hospitality industry leaders of stepped-up compliance checks that could result in fines, loss of liquor license and other measures for restaurants that weren’t following the governor’s executive orders.

The letter signed by local representatives Mary Franson, R-Alexandria, Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck, and Jeff Backer, R-Browns Valley, accused Walz of “weaponizing” state agencies and threatening restaurants at a time when many are struggling to keep their doors open.

Franson said the Walz’s response of steep fines and penalties was “completely out of step” with the low number of COVID-19 cases traced back to restaurants, which amounts to 2.3 percent of the state’s total cases, according to estimates from Hospitality Minnesota.

“Our local restaurants have done great work in figuring out how to safely and effectively serve their communities in an incredibly difficult set of circumstances,” Franson said in a news release. “Instead of threatening local restaurants with punishment for honest mistakes, state agencies should be helping our local restaurants improve their safety procedures.”


Anderson also said Walz was taking the wrong approach.

“The last thing we need in Minnesota is an adversarial relationship between hard-working hospitality folks and our government,” Anderson said in a statement. “Our bars and restaurants are operating under very difficult circumstances and are doing the best they can to conform with various restrictions. I can’t imagine what some of our workers are dealing with trying to put in a full shift and comply with all the mandates that have been issued. Some of those requirements don’t seem healthy, either. Let’s work together and look for ways to come out of this pandemic safely, with the health of both our citizens and businesses in place.”

The letter urges Walz to "reassess the tone and approach your agencies are taking" with restaurants and bars, and urges state agencies to be partners rather than adversaries in efforts to combat COVID-19.

The letter from the health and labor departments to hospitality leaders noted that most establishments are following the guidelines but it makes it difficult for establishments to to compete or explain to their customers when other establishments are not in compliance.

“We all need to do our part to help slow or reduce the spread of COVID-19, which will allow businesses to remain open and set our schools up for success,” the health and labor leaders said.

The compliance checks will focus on making sure restaurants are adhering to mask requirements for employees and customers, practicing social distancing by putting tables at least six feet apart, serving to no more than 50 percent capacity, and limiting party size limits to four per table or six if they’re immediate family members.

Al Edenloff is the editor of the twice-weekly Echo Press. He started his journalism career when he was in 10th grade, writing football and basketball stories for the Parkers Prairie Independent.
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