Top legislative leaders emerged from a meeting Thursday with Gov. Mark Dayton with no agreement on a possible special session to aid unemployed Iron Range miners and take steps to reduce joblessness among black Minnesotans.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, and House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, appeared with Dayton at a news conference after the closed-door meeting, saying further discussions with rank-and-file legislators are ahead.
Daudt cautioned that a special session is not imminent, and both said their caucus members would need input about the topics that may be on the agenda. "That process will probably take some time," he said, adding that "it may not be successful."
Dayton more than a month ago called for a special session to extend jobless benefits to idled miners who have been laid off as several taconite mines have been temporarily shuttered. The economy of northeastern Minnesota has been battered as turmoil on the global steel market has hit U.S. steel producers.
Dayton underwent spinal surgery last week, delaying a previously scheduled meeting between the governor and legislative leaders. He has said he will not call a special session unless he has a signed agreement with legislative leaders on an agenda.
With the holidays fast approaching, and the State Capitol closed because of a multiyear renovation, the logistics of a special session would be complicated. Many legislators have planned vacations out of town, making it unclear how soon a session could be held should an agreement be reached. The regular session is set for early March, which some legislators said is too late considering the immediate hardship of many unemployed steelworkers.
Bakk underscored the severity of the downturn afflicting the Iron Range, saying a solution should be reached soon to minimize the economic harm. "This unemployment issue on the Iron Range is threatening the security of thousands of families," he said. "It's about way more than just steel workers who are laid off." He said he hopes federal officials take action to address charges of illegal dumping of foreign steel.
White House chief of staff Denis McDonough, a Minnesota native, will visit with workers, mining executives, business leaders and local elected officials next week at an Iron Range community college. Bakk, Daudt and Dayton are expected to meet with McDonough to urge the White House to more aggressively respond to the charges of unfair trading practices by foreign-steel competitors.
But legislators have other ideas for a special session, each one making the chance of an accord a little harder.
It is possible legislators may consider measures that would pay for court-ordered reforms for the Minnesota Sex Offender Program, recently ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge. Legislators also need to put Minnesota into compliance with the federal Real ID law, which both Bakk and Daudt support.
Bakk separately said legislators also should consider approving legislation to address economic disparities affecting black residents. The governor has asked for $15 million toward that goal, but didn't offer more details. Dayton said he would first like to include black community leaders before rolling out a more complete plan.
Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, criticized the lack of specifics from the governor.
"Until there is a draft bill, not a news release, not a news conference, until there is actual legislation, I just don't take this seriously," he said. "No [legislator] is going to give the governor a blank check," he said. "There needs to be legislation for us to look at."