Gov. Mark Dayton has told legislative leaders they have until next Friday to reach “firm agreement” on whether to hold a special session, and the House speaker isn’t optimistic that will happen.
Dayton told House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, earlier in the week that a special session should be held no later than the third week in January “or it gets to be so close to the regular session that it obviates the purpose of a special session,” spokesman Linden Zakula said Friday.
Daudt said he agrees with Dayton’s concern on the timing, because the regular session starts March 8. But given the complexity of the issues and the range of positions among legislators, Daudt said he doesn’t expect to know by the end of next week whether they can agree.
Bipartisan groups with representatives from both houses are planning to meet in the coming week on three issues: economic aid for unemployed Iron Rangers, addressing racial disparities in employment and compliance with the federal Real ID law.
The last one is simple. Daudt and Bakk already have said they agree on taking the first step toward compliance, which would simply mean allowing the administration to start studying how to comply. But the other two issues are complex. Daudt favors a long-term plan for the Iron Range rather than a quick infusion of aid.
Northeastern Minnesota has been lashed economically by the fluctuations in the world steel market, and several taconite mines have been shuttered. Some legislators say the need is so great and immediate that the Range can’t wait for the regular session.
On the issue of racial disparities, Daudt said he hasn’t seen proposed legislation. Dayton has asked the Legislature for $15 million to begin the work.
But Daudt questioned the ability of the Legislature to take action so quickly on a problem that has been decades in the making. Daudt referenced advice he received from predecessors: “If it’s not a problem you can fix in a one-day special session, it’s not an issue you should address in a one-day special session.”
Then there’s the inherent tension in the design of a special session. Only the governor has the authority to call the Legislature back to St. Paul. But once he does, they’re in charge. So Dayton is attempting to exert control by insisting on a written consensus before he agrees to call a session.
Daudt said it’s a tricky arrangement because legislators have a constitutional right to debate and have their views heard. He said legislators have many viewpoints on these issues that break down along geographic — not partisan — lines, so it would be unfair to quell debate.
Bakk didn’t respond to telephone calls on Friday.
Working groups set
Bakk and Daudt have tapped three colleagues each to lead working groups on the three special-session issues.
Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, and Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar, will lead the working group on Iron Range unemployment. Sen. Bobby Joe Champion, DFL-Minneapolis, and Rep. Jim Knoblach, R-St. Cloud, will head up the racial disparities effort. Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, and Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, will run the Real ID group.
Bakk said he is seeking additional volunteers from his caucus to participate and asked Republican Senate Minority Leader David Hann to do likewise.