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Minnesota House fails to vote on unemployment benefit extension for Iron Range miners

ST. PAUL -- Nearly all Minnesota lawmakers say the state should extend unemployment benefits to laid-off Iron Range workers, but the state House failed to provide the help on its opening day TuesdayIt was a raucous first day as greater Minnesota ...

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Minnesota state Reps. Carly Melin of Hibbing and Jason Metsa of Virginia talk to reporters Tuesday, March 8, 2016, about the House's failure to pass a bill extending Iron Rangers' unemployment benefits. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

ST. PAUL - Nearly all Minnesota lawmakers say the state should extend unemployment benefits to laid-off Iron Range workers, but the state House failed to provide the help on its opening day Tuesday
It was a raucous first day as greater Minnesota stepped into the spotlight minutes after the House and Senate were gaveled in on the latest day a Legislature ever has begun its regular session. The House spent nearly three hours debating the unemployment issue, while senators argued about whether a new committee yanks authority away from greater Minnesota.
In the House, debate technically was about whether to suspend rules to allow a vote on the unemployment issue on the session's first day, without legislation going through the full committee process. The 71-59 vote to suspend rules fell short of the supermajority needed when Democrats opposed it.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said he did not know when the legislation could reappear in the full House. The bill must go the House Ways and Means Committee, which as of Tuesday night had no meeting scheduled this week.
Senators, meanwhile, plan to take up the unemployment bill Thursday after the Finance Committee approved it Tuesday.
The Senate could pass the measure at mid-day Thursday, allowing representatives to take it up later in the day. Daudt said he did not know if that would happen.
House Minority Leader Paul Thissen, D-Minneapolis, said the issue can be solved if leaders from both parties hold a face-to-face meeting. Daudt said he had not contacted Democratic leaders; he said he talked to one Democratic lawmaker.
Daudt and Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, used votes from three years ago to say Democrats supported shrinking the trust fund used to pay unemployment benefits and refund $272 million to businesses, two provisions in the GOP bill.
Democrats said the bill amounted to a business tax cut.
"It is unMinnesotan" to tie other issues to economic disaster bills, new Rep. Rob Ecklund, D-International Falls, said.
"It's a crisis," Rep. Tom Anzelc, D-Balsam Township, said in a passionate plea for the House to vote to extend unemployment benefits for Iron Range workers, but not to cut business taxes at the same time.
Anzelc said that the bill "has no support on the Iron Range" when it includes a $272 million cut in a business-supported trust fund that supports unemployment benefits. "So why take up our precious time on this first day of our session?"
"You negotiated hardships for political chips," Rep. Jason Metsa, D-Virginia, told Republicans.
Daudt, Garofalo and House Majority Leader Joyce Peppin, R-Rogers, said they could not understand why Democrats would defeat their attempt to help Iron Range residents.
"They want the talking point more than they actually want to help people on the Iron Range..." Daudt said. "We probably could have had this bill on the governor's desk in a matter of hours or days."
Democrats were not persuaded.
"I would just ask that you have a little compassion here," Rep. Carly Melin, D-Hibbing, said. "There is no reason you need to attach corporate tax cuts."
The smaller trust fund that the bill requires could not provide enough benefits if another recession hits, she added.
The Department of Employment and Economic Development on Tuesday reported that 2,000 taconite mine workers have been laid off as mines close temporarily or permanently. Another 1,800 workers in jobs dependent upon mining also are jobless.
DEED says about 2,300 on the Iron Range have exhausted their unemployment benefits.
In the Senate, minority Republicans failed when they tried to overturn a decision by Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, to put outdoors spending under control of Sen. John Marty, D-Roseville. Marty is a strong environmentalist.
Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, said that putting Marty in charge puts greater Minnesota at a disadvantage, in part because greater Minnesota has too little representation on Marty's committee. "As a rural member, I am very concerned about the direction this is going."
The Rev. Richard Buller of Valley Community Presbyterian Church in Golden Valley offered the opening House prayer, urging God to give representatives "a big dose of patience."
He also asked that "may civility be part of this body, and kindness," asking that lawmakers live by the Golden Rule. Minutes later, the strong partisan debate on unemployment issues began.
The House honored the late Rep. David Dill, D-Crane Lake, who died Aug. 8, with a moment of silence.
Minnesota "lost a giant of this House of Representatives," Anzelc said.
A committee later Tuesday approved $20,000 to design and erect signs on a newly designed David Dill Memorial Trial in northeastern Minnesota.
House members also took a moment of silence to honor of Fargo, N.D., police officer Jason Moszer, who was shot and killed on duty Feb. 10. He lived in Sabin, Minn.

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