Legislative Notebook: House To Debate Lockout Unemployment Payments

By Don Davis and Danielle Killey

House members could soon debate whether companies have to pay unemployment through an entire employee lockout, such as the one at American Crystal Sugar.

Bill author Rep. Joe Atkins, DFL-Inver Grove Heights, said unemployment benefits now end after 26 weeks and the extension for the duration is “common sense” and straightforward.

Minnesota Chamber of Commerce representative Ben Gerber said the change would reduce the incentive to find a quick solution to contract disputes.

“The legislation acts as a strong deterrent for unions to bargain,” he said.

Locked-out Crystal Sugar employee Becki Jacobson of Moorhead said many people have had to file bankruptcy, take early retirement or move out of the state to find jobs because of the lockout, especially after unemployment benefits run out.

“If companies had to pay unemployment during the lockout they would think twice,” she said, including about hiring temporary workers who she said often are “unskilled.”

Administration vice president Brian Ingulsrud of American Crystal Sugar Company said the company felt the lockout was its only option.

“We wish it could have been avoided,” he said.

A House committee voted 10-7 Thursday to move the bill to the House floor.

DFL accuses Republican

The Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party says a veteran Republican legislator improperly accused four DFL state representatives of voting for a $3.7 billion tax increase.

The party filed paperwork with the state Thursday saying that Rep. Greg Davids, R-Preston, made the accusations against Reps. Jay McNamar of Elbow Lake, Tim Faust of Hinckley, Shannon Savick of Wells and Joe Radinovich of Crosby in letters to the editor.

Davids’ letters, nearly identical in each of the four districts, say a February vote they and other Democrats took represented their support of Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton’s budget, which includes sizable tax increases.

DFL Chairman Ken Martin in his official complaint, however, claims that the action was a procedural vote, not a vote for or against the Dayton tax plan. He said Davids, an 11-term state House veteran, knew that and he violated a state law that bans false political letters to the editor.

The four lawmakers Davids singled out won by just a few hundred votes. Martin said Davids wrote no letters to the editor about DFL lawmakers who won by comfortable margins.

‘Keep playing hockey’

A Bemidji native wants the University of North Dakota-University of Minnesota hockey tradition to continue.

At least Minnesota state Rep. Ryan Winkler, DFL-Golden Valley, wants people to know he is not happy that it appears the longtime tradition is at an end.

Winkler introduced a bill that would give the University of Minnesota $800,000 in state funds every year the two schools play.

“The outcome of the game shall not affect the amount appropriated under this section,” the bill reads.

However, Winkler tweeted Thursday soon after the bill was introduced, “To my conservative friends: the hockey tradition bill I introduced won’t actually happen. It’s a statement.”

Winkler called the U of M-UND games “a great rivalry” that is disappearing because they no longer will be in the same conference.

Since the University of Minnesota has specific rights in the state Constitution, there are doubts that the Winkler bill would be constitutional.

Mayo bogs down

Mayo Clinic’s request for state money to help Rochester prepare for a major medical facilities expansion could be updated after its original proposal ran into difficulties, the Post Bulletin of Rochester reports.

House Tax Chairwoman Ann Lenczewski, DFL-Bloomington, has concerns and asked the bill’s sponsor, Democratic Rep. Kim Norton of Rochester, to come up with alternatives.

“They are poised and ready to go,” Norton said. “We can’t just say, ‘Hold off for a couple of years.”

Mayo wants the state to borrow more than $500 million so Rochester can build and improve infrastructure such as streets to handle more patients in town. Mayo plans to spend more than $3 billion on expanding its medical facilities.

But legislators and Gov. Mark Dayton have balked at the proposal. Dayton last week called the borrowing plan “almost unfeasible.”

The original proposal calls for repaying the loan with extra sales and income taxes generated by the clinic.

Staffing levels study

A compromise plan to study nurse staffing levels in Minnesota hospitals moved forward Thursday.

Hospitals would have to come up with staffing plans and track hours under the proposal.

The bill also would require a state study to find out how well hospital units are staffed.

It’s a compromise between nursing organizations and hospital administrators reached from an original plan to set mandatory staffing levels.

The House Health and Human Services Finance Committee approved the bill on a voice vote Thursday. A similar Senate bill also is moving forward.