GOP proposes language for benefits bill

Senate Majority Leader Thomas Bakk and House Majority leader Kurt Daudt talk to the media about their budget meetings at the Governor's Residence in St. Paul on Friday, May 15, 2015.

ST. PAUL — House Republicans have proposed draft language for a special session bill that would provide a 13-week extension of unemployment benefits for laid-off mining-related workers on the Iron Range.

It would also reform the state Unemployment Trust Fund by providing some financial relief for Minnesota employers who pay into it, which House Republicans say mirrors a DFL House proposal in 2013.

That fund, which would finance an extension of benefits for Iron Range workers, currently holds about $1.6 billion. There is bipartisan agreement the fund is too flush at the expense of employers.

A call to Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, who is chairman of a legislative working group on the unemployment benefits extension issue, for comment was not returned Friday night.

DFLers want a 26-week extension of benefits. But Republican officials say 13 weeks has been given in the past for unemployment insurance extensions. They say 26 weeks has traditionally been reserved for when employers permanently shut down operations, such as when LTV Mining near Hoyt Lakes closed in 2000/2001.

Next week is pretty much the deadline for whether a special session will be held.

Gov. Mark Dayton, DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk of Cook and House GOP Speaker Kurt Daudt plan to meet early in the week to decide if the governor will call for an emergency session.

If a special session is determined, it would likely begin on Monday, Feb. 1. If there can be agreement on a suspension of rules it would be for one day; otherwise it would be a three-day gathering.

The governor has said he wants agreement on the agenda before he would call a special session.

Daudt has said his caucus believes there is no need for a special session because the Legislature convenes in about seven weeks on March 8.

However, in a telephone interview with the Mesabi Daily News Friday afternoon, Daudt said if the governor calls a special session he will bring a bill to the House floor to extend benefits for mining-related Iron Range workers.

He also said it would have his support and the backing of the House GOP caucus.

There currently are more than 600 Iron Range workers whose benefits have expired, and that number will exceed 1,000 before the regular session begins.

But the hang-up for a special session could now be the economic disparities in communities of color issue.

Gov. Dayton and Bakk both have said it’s important that something about that situation needs to also be part of an emergency session.

But Daudt and Republicans say it’s too big and complex of an issue to be addressed with any fairness and certainty in a special session. They say it requires a regular session.

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