Minnesota House Speaker Kurt Daudt said Thursday that if Gov. Mark Dayton wants a special session to extend unemployment for Iron Range steelworkers, House Republicans will insist he pledge to support a quick resolution to the state approval process for two high-profile business ventures.
“We view extending unemployment benefits as a short-term Band-Aid when there is a longer-term problem we really think should be addressed at the same time,” Daudt said. “We look forward to visiting with the governor about that.”
The two projects are the proposed Sandpiper Pipeline, which Enbridge Energy wants to build through Minnesota to carry oil from western North Dakota to Superior, Wis. The other is the PolyMet copper/metal mine proposed for Hoyt Lakes near Minnesota’s Iron Range.
Both are in the midst of the state regulatory process, and Republicans have urged quicker approval in order to benefit from the job-creation opportunities of both projects. Dayton has defended his administration’s handling of the approval process for both projects, citing the need to balance the economic potential with responsible environmental stewardship.
“We want to be sure the jobs on the Range are long-term and sustainable,” said Daudt, R-Crown.
On Wednesday, Senate DFLers threw in with DFLer Dayton’s proposal to extend unemployment benefits for at least 600 steelworkers who have been left without paychecks by a series of mine idlings in northern Minnesota. In addition, DFL senators said they want to push a series of bills aimed at reducing economic disparities encountered by black Minnesotans and legislation aimed at resolving Minnesota’s failure to comply with Real ID, a new federal identification requirement.
Iron Range DFLers said the speaker was playing political games as hundreds of laid-off steelworkers face the loss of benefits.
“As the holidays near, families all across Minnesota will run out of unemployment benefits and it is disgraceful to use them to score political points,” said Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township. “If you support mining then you have to support miners, not attach strings to unemployment insurance while they need help. Steelworkers are not asking for handouts, they are merely asking for assistance to get them through this rough period.”
DFL legislators said that Republicans have failed to take action against foreign countries dumping low-cost steel in the U.S., which is by far the biggest issue crippling the domestic steel industry.
“It is honestly not surprising to see these political games,” said Rep. Carly Melin, DFL-Hibbing. “Last spring we put forward an amendment requiring that public works projects would be made from steel produced in America to combat illegal steel dumping, but House Republicans blocked it.”
Daudt and House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, said they are willing to engage in discussions about a special session. But both sounded skeptical of the need to meet for a special session before the regular session that starts on March 8.
“If the governor wants to call a special session, the Constitution gives him the authority to do that,” Daudt said. “He can call a special session. He doesn’t need my approval or agreement to do that.”