- Associated Press - Thursday, March 10, 2016

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Minnesota’s Senate passed a bill extending unemployment benefits for laid-off steelworkers Thursday, but the checks won’t head out the door yet.

The plight of workers on Minnesota’s Iron Range amid the steel industry’s downturn consumed lawmakers who returned to work this week. The Senate’s 62-3 vote to pass a 26-week extension could still get caught in a partisan logjam in the House, where GOP lawmakers are pushing to pair the benefits with a tax break for businesses who furnish the state’s unemployment insurance fund.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk said Thursday he’s working on a deal with Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt that would deliver the extension quickly, following up with the tax break in the coming weeks. Daudt said the two were talking but wouldn’t say how close they were to reaching an agreement.

“Sometimes you can think you’re an inch away and be a mile away,” he said. “We are talking and I think that we both have a shared priority of getting unemployment benefits extended for those that are suffering on the range right now.”

The extension to thousands of steelworkers and vendors who work in the northeast Minnesota mines, 1,200 of whom have used up state benefits, has been a long time in the works. It was the focal point of months of negotiations over a special session that never happened.

Senate Democrats blocked a GOP-led attempt to add in the tax cut, calling it an unprecedented attempt to link a major tax break into what amounted to disaster relief for Minnesota’s Iron Range. Republican Senators said the time was ripe, arguing that part of the $1.6 billion balance in state’s unemployment fund should be returned to businesses.

“These folks do need help. But I think we also need to keep in mind that some of our businesses need help,” said Sen. Gary Dahms, R-Redwood Falls.

Bakk and other Senate Democrats said they’re open to the tax break, but insisted it should move separately. Bakk, a Cook Democrat whose district is in the heart of the Iron Range, pleaded with GOP lawmakers to support the bill. good

“Think of it as your family: No money, don’t know if your employer is ever going to go back to work,” he said. “We are proud people and it is not easy for us to stand here … and ask for help.”


Associated Press reporter Kevin Burbach contributed to this report.

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