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Minnesota Legislature

Range worker financial relief now back in the hands of the Senate

Rep. Jason Metsa, left, listens to Rep. Pat Garofalo during debate on SF209 during session March 17. The bill passed 104-25. Photo by Paul Battaglia

Financial relief to northeastern Minnesota iron workers remains caught in a volley of political maneuvers with the House passing a bill 104-25 Thursday granting a 26-week extension to unemployment compensation. However, the bill, which originated in the Senate, now returns to that body with a provision attached that will most likely take a conference committee to work through the differences.

Sponsored by Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-Farmington) and Sen. David Tomassoni (DFL-Chisholm), HF180/SF209* passed the Senate last week, but was amended by the House Ways and Means Committee on Monday to attach language that addresses the surplus in the state’s unemployment insurance trust fund and affirms the importance of the mining industry in the state.

On its own, the meat of the bill is non-controversial. It would provide 26 weeks of additional unemployment insurance benefits to “an applicant who was laid off due to lack of work after March 1, 2015, from an iron ore mining industry employer or from an employer that is a supplier of goods or services that are directly related to the extraction or processing of iron ore.”

House Floor session 3/17/16

But DFLers and the governor object to linking the benefits to a provision that would address the estimated $16 billion employment trust fund surplus. They would prefer to see that language travel on its own through the legislative process.

Garofalo noted there should be no controversy as the provision’s language was provided by the Senate DFL leadership.

“This is consensus legislation,” Garofalo said. “Outside of the people under the dome, I don’t think anyone gives a rip if there are two bills.”

However, Rep. Jason Metsa (DFL-Virginia) said that the bill “is a poison pill” and will set a precedent. He criticized Republicans for holding the workers hostage in exchange for a benefit for businesses.

He was unsuccessful with his amendment that would have removed the House-inserted language from the bill. “We have the opportunity to do the right thing and pass a ‘clean bill’ over to the Senate. It shouldn’t be tied to people’s hardship.”

Several Iron Range representatives said they reluctantly would vote for the bill.

“I am urging a green vote on the bill, and let the process continue on its own. Yes, it will come back; yes there is more work to do. … We need to quit the rancor … people need us to stop the maneuvering, and they need us to get on with doing the work of the people,” said Rep. Tom Anzelc (DFL-Balsam Township).

Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-Hibbing) voted for the bill, but was disappointed in the process. “I recognize the fact the Republicans control the agenda, and you have dug in your heels, and because of that, this is the pill we have been given to swallow.”

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