Talk, but no progress, on Minnesota special session

Published 9:52 am Friday, January 22, 2016

ST. PAUL — Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton and Minnesota’s legislative leaders emerged from the latest special-session status check on Thursday with no clear answers, as the state’s top Republican said he still believes lawmakers can wait until the Legislature’s early March return to extend benefits for unemployed steelworkers and address other looming issues.

It’s been more than two months since Dayton raised the idea for the session, and the agenda has grown to include tackling racial economic disparities and upgrading Minnesota driver’s licenses to meet federal standards. Working groups of lawmakers have spent weeks examining those issues in hopes of crafting bills.

But while Dayton and Democratic Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk are aiming to call an emergency meeting by early February, GOP House Speaker Kurt Daudt said Thursday he’s not sold on the need, citing the fast-approaching March 8 start of the regular session.

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“We’re just not quite there yet,” Daudt said after meeting with Bakk and Dayton. “We can and probably should wait.”

Daudt said the GOP-controlled House would likely support extending unemployment benefits and allowing the state’s public safety commissioner to move forward with appeasing the federal government’s REAL ID requirements. He vowed to line up legislation for an early March vote if a special session doesn’t materialize.

The three top politicians said they’d give lawmakers another week to hammer out firm proposals with the hope of reaching a decision on whether a special session will be held.

Bakk, who represents part of northeastern Minnesota’s Iron Range that’s been wracked by plant shutdowns and layoffs, said the state needs to act fast as more laid-off miners exhaust their benefits.

“The numbers are mounting. I just worry about those families, and I worry about them having to pin their hopes to a divided Legislature,” Bakk said.