Senate Joins Dayton In Backing Range Unemployment Special Session

Minnesota Mark Dayton meets the media Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, to discuss issues ranging from Minneapolis police shooting a black man to whether a special session should be held. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)
Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton meets the media Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2015, to discuss issues ranging from Minneapolis police shooting a black man to whether a special session should be held. (Forum News Service photo by Don Davis)

Minnesota Senate Democrats and the governor want a special legislative session to extend unemployment benefits for nearly 600 people laid off from an Iron Range mine.

The Minnesota House, controlled by Republicans, has been silent on the issue. Dayton asked legislative leaders last week to agree to a special session.

The workers will run out of benefits before the next regular legislation begins on March 8.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, wrote to Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday saying that his caucus members support a special session not only to extend benefits but to approve an expanded state identification that soon will be needed to board airliners and get into federal buildings.

Hundreds of workers have been laid off because of mostly temporary shutdowns in northeastern Minnesota’s taconite mines.

Those layoffs continued Tuesday as Cliffs Natural Resources Inc. announced it will close Northshore Mining operations in Silver Bay and Babbitt due to the continuing oversupply of iron ore in the U.S. and global markets.

The move will put most of Northshore’s 540 workers out of a job by Dec. 1 through at least the first quarter of 2016, although no firm date is set for re-opening.

Dayton referred to Tuesday’s news as further evidence of Iron Range financial problems, although the Silver Bay and Babbitt workers likely would not be affected by special session legislation.

Bakk said steelworkers’ jobs are affected by “international trade forces.”

“The economy in northeastern Minnesota would be significantly impacted without action by the Legislature prior to next session,” Bakk wrote in a letter urging Dayton to call a special session.

A spokeswoman for House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said he is discussing the special session issue with GOP House members before commenting in public.

Bakk suggested that a one-day special session also deal with Real ID, the federal requirement that state-issued identification cards such as driver’s licenses be enhanced with more information. Minnesota had previously outlawed Real ID, but there is a growing support among legislators to change the law.

“Minnesotans are currently restricted from using their driver’s licenses to enter federal facilities and nuclear power plants, and the deadline for air travel requirement is quickly approaching,” Bakk wrote.

Dayton said that while federal officials have indicated Minnesota could wait until the March 8 start of the regular session, he would like it to be included in an unemployment benefits extension session.

The governor promised “to make absolutely sure” that Minnesotans will be able to get an ID card that allows them to fly and get into federal buildings.

Legislators earlier rejected a Dayton request for a special session to deal with the closing of Walleye season on Mille Lacs Lake, which cost area businesses.