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Range unemployment legislation may be headed to negotiation

ST. PAUL -- A two-part bill to extend Iron Range unemployment benefits and reform a trust fund that pays the benefits appears destined to be negotiated by a House-Senate conference committee.After legislative leaders promised to deal with the iss...

ST. PAUL - A two-part bill to extend Iron Range unemployment benefits and reform a trust fund that pays the benefits appears destined to be negotiated by a House-Senate conference committee.
After legislative leaders promised to deal with the issue in the session’s first week, the differences remain unchanged as the second week begins.
The House Ways and Means Committee on Monday passed the two-part bill, which could pass the full House later this week. If so, it will force negotiations with senators who last week passed legislation that just extended unemployment benefits for taconite miners and those in related businesses who have lost jobs as mines temporarily and permanently close.
Unemployment benefits are ending for about 2,000 workers.
Republicans who control the House insist that along with extending unemployment benefits for 26 weeks that the trust fund be reformed. Democrats want the two issues considered separately, but many have said they likely would support reform.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, D-Cook, said Monday that he is working with House Speaker Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, on a compromise that would separate the issues so the benefits could be extended soon, with the trust fund matter wrapping up next month.
The GOP calls for a cap on how much the trust fund may contain (it now has $1.6 billion). It would rebate money to businesses.
While Republicans want to refund $272 million to businesses, Bakk has a proposal to send back $258 million.
Bakk insists that the trust fund changes go through at least two Senate committees before hitting the full Senate.
“There’s never been an objection that there’s room to do something there,” Bakk said. “It’s been a matter of precedent and process.”
The House Republican bill was written by Rep. Pat Garofalo of Farmington. Like the Senate-passed bill, it would extend unemployment benefits extensions to workers laid off after March 1, 2015.
The trust fund is “morbidly obese,” Garofalo said as a reason he wants it changed.

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