ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Gov. Mark Dayton on Tuesday underscored his call for “imperative” action on a steelworker emergency assistance plan, pointing to the idling of another mining operation as evidence of a growing crisis in northern Minnesota needing attention in a special session.
Majority Senate Democrats have endorsed Dayton’s push for swift action, saying they agree that a relief package can’t wait until the 2016 session convenes in March. House Republicans have yet to weigh in, with a spokeswoman for Speaker Kurt Daudt saying he had no immediate comment.READ MORE: Maple Grove Man Convicted Of Murder In Wife's Shooting Death
The Democratic governor first raised the prospect last week of a special session in a letter to top lawmakers but he hadn’t spoken publicly about it until now. He is asking for an extension of unemployment benefits for hundreds of laid-off steelworkers about to exhaust the maximum allotment. His comments came on a day Cliffs Natural Resources said it would temporarily shut down a second plant, Northshore Mining, in a move that could sideline 540 more workers in northeastern Minnesota starting next month.
“No one knows when this industry is coming back,” Dayton said. “I believe (a special session) is imperative in this situation with people going to be without any source of income and no prospect of re-employment sometime soon.”
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk echoed that concern Tuesday in a letter to Dayton, pledging his caucus’ support.
“The economy in northeastern Minnesota would be significantly impacted without action by the Legislature prior to next session,” wrote Bakk, whose district covers parts of the distressed region. “Ideally, legislation would be enacted as soon as possible to minimize financial pressures on these families.”READ MORE: ‘Our Business is Down Over 50%’: Deadly St. Paul Bar Shooting Impacts Surrounding Businesses
The slump in the steel industry is hitting hard on the Iron Range. Keewatin Taconite has also been shut down this year, as have Mesabi Nugget near Hoyt Lakes and Mining Resources in Chisholm. Some in the industry blame a rush of low-cost steel flooding foreign market and have called upon President Barack Obama’s administration to investigate whether any of it results from unfair trade practices.
In his letter to Dayton, Bakk suggested that lawmakers could also use a special session to address a dispute with the federal government over driver’s licenses that could mean trouble for Minnesota residents boarding flights as soon as next year. Minnesota’s licenses do not comply with the REAL ID law and some fear it will cause hassles to citizens.
But Dayton has requested more time from the federal government to come into compliance and said that issue might best be held over until lawmakers return for their regular session.
Earlier this year, Dayton floated the idea of a special session to help Mille Lacs Lake area businesses cope with an early end to walleye fishing season. That attempt fizzled, and on Tuesday he denied that his appeals were becoming routine.
“Believe me the last person on this planet who wants the Legislature back in session is me,” he joked at a news conference. “If need be, we will. There’s an expense involved and I don’t do it lightly.”MORE NEWS: None Hurt After Shots Fired Inside Plymouth Movie Theater
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