ST. PAUL, Minn. — Hopes for a quick special session faded Wednesday when Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt accused one another of acting in bad faith to solve the state's driver's license dilemma and assist sidelined steelworkers.
Daudt declared it unlikely that a deal would be struck to schedule an emergency meeting of the Legislature this month, blaming the lack of clarity from Dayton's administration over what lawmakers would vote on. "Right now, I feel like I am the only one trying," Daudt said.
Dayton shot back that the Capitol's top Republican was displaying a "passive-aggressive mode of not cooperating and not assuming the mantle of leadership."
The two leaders largely agreed on the need for prompt action to ensure Minnesota residents aren't turned away from domestic flights, but held dueling blame-laying news conferences. Beneath the recriminations are real problems affecting thousands of people.
It's still unclear when the Department of Homeland Security will require the new federally approved Real IDs at airports, but state officials expect that to come later this year along with a four-month grace window to make the necessary improvements.
The governor bristled at draft legislation from House Republicans that wouldn't have set the ID upgrades in motion until at least early 2018.
"I would be embarrassed to go to Homeland Security with that proposal," he said.
Daudt countered that the timeline was flexible and produced a newer proposal that would have started the efforts to comply by early March. He criticized the governor for not putting forth his own plan.
"We're ready to fix this problem ... all they can do is criticize and blame us," Daudt said. "We're not the ones to blame."
The confusion surrounding boarding flights prompted the state's largest business group, the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, to send Dayton and other state officials a letter Tuesday urging them to "resolve this issue before the consequences of inaction wreak havoc on the lives of Minnesotans and the ability of Minnesota's businesses to operate efficiently in today's economy."
Dayton also wants lawmakers to allocate at least $15 million to bolster job-training and other assistance programs for communities of color with the aim of tackling racial disparities that have simmered for years but have gained greater attention amid mass protests in Minneapolis and elsewhere.
To cope with fallout from a domestic steel industry downturn, Dayton is asking the Legislature to sign off on 26 weeks of additional benefits for mine workers facing long layoffs. Employees at recently idled taconite plants are starting to exhaust their unemployment assistance. More than 1,000 could see their last check before lawmakers return for their regular session in March, spurring fears that families could lose their homes or have to leave the region to find work.
"To drag this out and leave these people with that kind of uncertainty of whether they're going to have just a minimal amount of income to provide for themselves and their families is just unconscionable," Dayton said.
The state has a $1.6 billion unemployment insurance fund that would cover the additional costs of the benefit extension, though it is unclear whether it would apply only to steelworkers or also to spinoff companies also hurting by a lagging Iron Range economy. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said he hopes to nail down how to help those workers at mine vendors out by the end of the week.
A trio of legislative working groups is planning to convene Thursday to see if there is common ground on the main topics. Dayton is set to meet Friday with Daudt and Bakk for a status check.