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Daudt wants assurances before Minnesota special session

ST. PAUL — The top Minnesota legislative Republican says he needs to talk special session details with Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton before he can sign off on lawmakers meeting before they are scheduled to return on March 8.

Dayton wants a special session later this year or early 2016 to extend unemployment benefits for nearly 600 laid-off Iron Range miners. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, would like to add approving expanded state identification cards, such as driver's licenses, to meet federal requirements for airliner boarding and entrance into federal buildings. He also suggests beginning to take steps to help alleviate a fiscal disparity black Minnesotans suffer.

However, House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said Thursday in an interview that he has yet to see details for any potential special session issues and needs to know just what Dayton wants before he can agree to a session.

Daudt said that under the state Constitution Dayton can call a special session whenever he wants, but governors traditionally work out deals with legislative leaders to make sure a session does not expand beyond its original purpose.

The speaker said he has no problem with extending unemployment benefits for miners whose checks are to end before the next regular session, but the state needs to do more than that "short-term solution."

"We need to look at policies we have passed in the past," Daudt said, and take actions that help Minnesotans return to work.

Prime among those issues, he said, is to keep on track approval of the proposed Iron Range PolyMet copper-nickel mine and the Sandpiper Pipeline to move North Dakota crude oil across northern Minnesota.

A PolyMet mining permit, which Dayton ultimately would decide, is months away.

Dayton this week said he will consider requiring a study about human health impact from the mine, but promised it would not delay a permit decision. However, Daudt said, he understands that a health study could take two years.

Daudt said that the Dayton administration has delayed a Sandpiper decision by requesting a change in how a pipeline is approved, a change the courts overturned. Sandpiper is stalled with state regulators.

The speaker said that before he embraces a special session that he needs Dayton assurances that the PolyMet and Sandpiper consideration will move forward without delays. He said that he does not demand approval of the projects as a pre-condition for a special session.

"I think Minnesotans deserve a commitment from the governor that he will not delay or interfere with the normal approval of these projects," Daudt said.

For the federally required Real ID changes in driver's licenses, Daudt suggested that a special session overturn existing state law that bans the state from even studying the change. He said that legislators could pass in the 2016 regular session to comply with federal law.

As for dealing with a recent report that blacks are falling further behind whites financially, Daudt again said he needs to see specifics.

"All Minnesotans, not just those on the Iron Range, not just those in the black community" need to see economic improvements, the speaker said.

Like extending unemployment benefits for miners, he said about blacks' fiscal woes, "we can't put a Band Aid on that, either."