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Dayton delays trip in hopes of getting unemployment bill

By Don Davis

Forum News Service

ST. PAUL -- Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton delayed an out-of-state visit Thursday in hopes that he will receive a bill extending unemployment benefits to more than 2,700 laid-off Iron Range workers.

Dayton planned to leave in the afternoon for San Francisco to visit his son for Easter. But minutes before the Senate was to take up one of two unemployment-related bills, his office announced that he will remain in St. Paul.

Senators passed legislation 59-0 at mid-day to reform the unemployment insurance trust fund by limiting how much money it could keep in the bank and refund more than $250 million to businesses. House Republicans linked that issue to extending a Range unemployment benefit extension.

A House GOP spokeswoman said Thursday morning that leaders had not decided whether to take up unemployment issues when representatives gather at 4 p.m.

“The need is urgent for a 26-week unemployment benefits extension for thousands of unemployed workers on Minnesota's Iron Range," Dayton said. "It has now been five months since benefits for some of them began to expire."

The latest figures show more than 2,700 workers' unemployment benefits have been exhausted.

The Senate has passed a bill to extend benefits and the House has passed legislation that included both the reform and extended benefits. Thursday's Senate action was to pass a similar bill to the House reform plan.

"I urge the House of Representatives to pass both of these bills today," Dayton said Thursday. "I will sign both of them separately, as soon as they reach me.”

On Wednesday, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said he wants the House to not only pass the reform bill but also legislation to extend unemployment benefits that have expired for about 2,000 people on the Iron Range.

A Senate committee Wednesday approved the reform bill and sent it to the full Senate. The fund provides money paid as benefits to unemployed Minnesotans.

Bakk asked the House to suspend its rules that otherwise would forbid the issue from arising Thursday. With Friday and Monday being legislative Easter holidays, he urged quick action for people in his and nearby districts to get money into the hands of those who have lost jobs due to taconite mines closing, both temporarily and permanently.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, and other legislative leaders promised that unemployment benefits would be extended for 26 weeks in the first week of session, which started March 8. But when House Republicans tacked the trust fund reform onto a benefit extension, Democrats said they could not accept the combined bill.

Bakk and others said the reform provision should be vetted by legislative committees before reaching a vote.

Dayton on Wednesday complained that Daudt broke his promise to deal with unemployment when the session began.

“It is wrong, it is heartless and it is just cruel,” Dayton said about Republican insistence on linking unemployment benefits to trust fund reform, which delayed unemployment benefit extensions.

hich delayed unemployment benefit extensions.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.