Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday ended his push for a special legislative session to aid unemployed Iron Range workers, his latest snub by legislative leaders who have now resisted special-session calls since last summer.
“With great regret, I am announcing today that I will not be able to call a special session of the Legislature to provide for unemployment benefits for thousands of people on the Iron Range,” Dayton said at a news conference.
The governor blamed House Republicans for the impasse, saying they wanted tax reductions for companies in exchange for extending jobless benefits for laid-off steel workers.
Legislators and the governor’s office have in recent weeks negotiated proposals to aid miners and others affected by the domestic steel industry downturn. Also considered were proposals to address racial economic disparities and a fix to make the state compliant with new federal Real ID laws.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said the blame lies with Senate DFLers, who first proposed passing legislation that would address racial economic disparities in Minnesota. The issue has the attention of state leaders after new census data showed a rise in black poverty from 2013 to 2014, while the state’s poverty rate held steady.
“The problem isn’t easy to fix,” Daudt said. “They got themselves in a bit of a bind, and the easy way out is, of course, to say we can’t get to an agreement and blame Republicans.”
Daudt said that once the Legislature reconvenes March 8, measures on jobless benefits for the Iron Range and a Real ID fix would be top on the agenda, with a full House vote expected within the first week.
Dayton’s capitulation comes more than three months after he first proposed the special session. Last summer, Dayton also proposed one to deal with a walleye shortage on Lake Mille Lacs that hurt tourism businesses in the region. Republicans rejected that proposal as well, saying it opened the door to an array of other industries experiencing sudden or unexpected hardships.
The governor has the authority to call for a special session at any time, but Dayton insisted on a signed agreement by all four legislative leaders on the parameters since a session can only be adjourned by legislators. Without the agreement, legislators could bring up new, controversial measures, creating a session that drags on and potentially becoming an embarrassment for the governor.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, in a statement called it “incredibly disappointing the Republicans refuse to extend a hand to those who are still struggling.”
He added: “I hold out hope that at the very least Republicans will hold to their word to take action on these critical issues the first week of session, because there are too many Minnesotans who should not be asked wait any longer.”
Iron Range House legislators wrote Daudt a letter Tuesday, expressing their disappointment, also insisting on quick action during the regular legislative session.
“If you don’t feel that this crisis is worthy of a special session, it clearly merits immediate action once session starts in 34 days,” said the letter, signed by DFL Reps. Tom Anzelc, of Balsam Township, Jason Metsa of Virginia and Rob Ecklund of International Falls.
The governor’s appearance at the news conference was his first since fainting Sunday at a political event in Woodbury. Dayton, who had back surgery in December, said the cause was dehydration and a warm, stuffy room.
He said he has resumed a normal schedule.
Ricardo Lopez • 651-925-5044