Iron Range workers' aid passes House, but with 'poison pill'
ST. PAUL -- Minnesota state representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill extending unemployment benefits to laid-off Iron Range workers Thursday night but, as one lawmaker said, it contains a "poison pill" that will stop the legislation in the Se...
ST. PAUL - Minnesota state representatives overwhelmingly passed a bill extending unemployment benefits to laid-off Iron Range workers Thursday night but, as one lawmaker said, it contains a “poison pill” that will stop the legislation in the Senate.
The vote was 104-25, with only Democrats voting against it.
Democrats have loudly opposed how Republicans who control the House are handling the bill. They tacked an Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund reform package onto a plan to give out-of-work miners and others on the range 26 more weeks of unemployment benefits.
Rep. Tom Anzelc, D-Balsam Township, said after the vote that while he still opposes the two-part bill, he voted in favor of it because “it was the best opportunity to move the bill down the field.”
Rep. Jason Metsa, D-Virginia, was the only Iron Range lawmakers to oppose the final bill. He failed 79-50 to strip the reform legislation from the bill. He said leaving the reform legislation on the measure was a “poison pill.”
Bill sponsor Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, said Minnesotans do not care about the process taken to get unemployment aid to northeastern Minnesota.
“The only people who care that this is in one bill are under these dome,” Garofalo said in the Capitol debate.
Democrats said combining the bill only delays unemployment benefits.
“This bill will go to the Senate,” Anzelc said. “Yes, it will come back. Yes there is work left to do.”
Hours before the House debate, Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said: “I am not going to accept the two issues linked together.”
The bill should arrive in the Senate in time for its Monday session. If, as expected, senators reject the House legislation, negotiations between the two chambers likely will follow.
“It’s really difficult to say” how those negotiations may go, Rep. Carly Melin, D-Hibbing, said.
As authors of the unemployment bills, Garofalo and Sen. David Tomassoni, D-Chisholm, probably will be the key negotiators. Rep. Tim Mahoney, D-St. Paul, reminded colleagues that when the two last did that job, they failed to agree on a major spending bill, part of the reason the Legislature needed a special session last year to finish writing the state budget.
House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, said that Democrats wrote pretty much the entire bill the House passed.
However, Bakk intended the reform part of the measure to be taken up later this month. He insists the unemployment benefit part of the bill pass immediately.
Melin said legislation dealing with emergency situations, such as floods, should not be paired with another issue in the same bill.
“I don’t believe Minnesotans want the precedent,” Metsa said.
Senators earlier passed a bill with just the benefit extension.
About 2,000 Iron Range workers connected to taconite mines have run out of unemployment insurance benefits. Political leaders promised to approve 26 more weeks of aid in the first week of the 2016 legislative session, which began March 8.
Taconite mines across the range, which produce ore that is turned into steel, have closed permanently or temporarily due to China dumping government-subsidized steel in the United States.
The part of the bill that Republicans want, but Democrats want to do later, would limit how much money can be in the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund and refund $258 million to businesses that have paid into it. The fund has $1.6 billion, far more than Republicans think should be there.