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House fails to vote on unemployment benefit extension

ST. PAUL -- Greater Minnesota stepped into the spotlight Tuesday minutes after a raucous 2016 legislative session opening day, including the House's failure to agree about whether to take up a bill extending Iron Range unemployment benefits.

ST. PAUL -- Greater Minnesota stepped into the spotlight Tuesday minutes after a raucous 2016 legislative session opening day, including the House's failure to agree about whether to take up a bill extending Iron Range unemployment benefits.

The House did not get enough votes to suspend its rules to decide on the first day of session whether to extend unemployment benefits to Iron Range workers laid off due to taconite mine closings, both temporary and permanent. The Senate, meanwhile, debated whether a new committee yanks authority away from greater Minnesota.

The 71-59 vote to suspend rules fell short of the super-majority needed to overturn rules that require bills to go through a committee process. With the failure, the bill will go to committees, but it is possible it could come back to the full House later this week or next week.

Senators plan to take up the unemployment bill Thursday.

Democrats dominated the unemployment debate by vigorously opposing House majority Republicans' efforts to lower unemployment taxes on businesses at the same time they extend benefits for thousands of workers.

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"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. "Business wants a clean piece of legislation that extend unemployment benefits."

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.

Rep. Carly Melin, D-Hibbing, asked those same Republicans not to tie the unemployment extension to lowering business taxes.

"I would just ask that you have a little compassion here," Melin said. "There is no reason you need to attach corporate tax cuts."

A smaller trust fund that the bill requires could not provide enough benefits if another recession hits, she added.

"The reason we oppose the tax cut in the UI (unemployment insurance) trust fund is that fund is there for people who experience frequent layoffs," Melin said.

New Rep. Rob Ecklund, D-International Falls, a steelworker, said his fellow union members told him: "We do not need to have this tax break for big business attached to this bill."

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Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said that Democrats have supported similar unemployment trust funds cuts as he proposes. His committee recently approved the bill on a bipartisan basis, he said.

"How can delaying this for a week help the people who need these benefits?" Garofalo asked.

Garofalo said that northeastern Minnesota chambers of commerce received bad information when they wrote letters saying that unemployment benefits extension legislation should not include a change in the trust fund.

The GOP bill would refund $272 million to businesses that have paid into the unemployment fund, as well as reduce taxes businesses pay to the fund.

Republicans were tired that Democrats keep debating the issue, a debate that lasted nearly three hours.

"Let's put this partisan stuff behind us and move forward," Rep. Dale Lueck, R-Aitkin.

House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said before the 2016 session began that his caucus could support a "clean" unemployment extension bill, without the trust fund included.

As the House began its unemployment debate, senators argued about whether enough advance notice was given for an afternoon Finance Committee meeting to take up the same topic.

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Sen. Michele Fischbach, R-Paynesville, complained that Democrats who control the Senate could have given more notice, so the public could be involved in the committee meeting.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said Tuesday’s hearing on the unemployment legislation was better than the House plan to suspend rules and the state Constitution and vote on the issue soon after the session started.

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. Legislators are expected to extend their unemployment benefits another 26 weeks.

Rhetoric in both chambers was much harsher than normal during a first-day of session.

Construction workers in hardhats roved around the Minnesota House chamber Tuesday morning, less than an hour before the 2016 session began, conducting last-minute checks on microphones and voting buttons.

The Rev. Richard Buller of Valley Community Presbyterian Church in Golden Valley offered the opening 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.

Peace broke down quickly as minority leaders in both chambers began trying to make changes in decisions legislative leaders had made.

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 House honored the late Rep. David Dill, D-Crane Lake, who died Aug. 8.

Minnesota "lost a giant of this House of Representatives," Rep. Tom Anzelc, D-Balsam Township, said.

"David Dill was our friend," added Rep. Tom Hackbarth, R-Cedar. "He worked across the aisle with us."

Hackbarth's committee later Tuesday was expected to vote to name a state trail after Dill.

Related Topics: IRON RANGE
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