- Associated Press - Monday, March 28, 2016

Star Tribune, March 25

Iron Rangers finally get aid they need in face of economic downturn

A 26-week extension of unemployment benefits is on its way to laid-off Iron Rangers, some of whom have been without that economic lifeline since November. The Legislature finally did Thursday, at the end of week three of the 2016 session, what it should have done in a proffered special session four months ago.

House Republicans and their business allies might consider that delay justified because it achieved their goal - a companion bill cutting employers’ unemployment taxes by $258 million. But other Minnesotans can’t feel good about the long, tortured path that legislators took to providing the state assistance that has become customary when their fellow citizens are caught in an economic calamity.

If the unemployment-benefits dispute at the Capitol was a foretaste, the remaining eight weeks of this year’s session could be pretty unappetizing. The session’s start has demonstrated anew the effectiveness of ultimatums, intransigence and political hostage-taking when, apparently, only one party is eager to free the hostages - in this case, Iron Range workers who already have exhausted 26 weeks of unemployment benefits.

It’s distressing to see one region treated that way. The Iron Range is a one-party stronghold, to be sure, but it’s part of the Minnesota family - a family that relies on state government to sustain an environment that enables prosperity. State government won’t stay functional if it’s internally divided into jealous regional fiefdoms.

That said, there’s reason for hope. The unemployment logjam was finally broken. Relief is on the way to people laid off last year, even as two mining companies are saying they plan to resume operations in coming months. The economic storm that has swamped northeastern Minnesota has not passed, but it is abating.

And this crop of legislators showed that they are capable of acting - provided one party considers action essential. This is not a budget-setting year. Not many bills on the Legislature’s docket are “musts.” But both parties should consider it essential to show Minnesotans that they are capable of governing this state well, even when they share power with their political rivals.

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The Free Press of Mankato, March 25

Voters should remember partisanship on unemployment issue

It took a month for the Legislature to pass standard legislation extending unemployment benefits to laid-off steelworkers when it should have taken a week.

But Republicans and Democrats saw the need to engage in partisanship to apparently score political points and gain talking points for the upcoming election.

Both sides deserve some of the blame. We’ll let voters decide who and how much. But consider these facts in this war of words that became a mini-series.

First, take the Republicans who, according to their own account, did not know Democrats would object to them attaching an unemployment tax cut for employers to the extension of unemployment benefits to workers.

OK. Fair enough. If the GOP was sincere in this respect, then DFL calls on the floor that the GOP was withholding benefits to laid-off workers to serve their corporate welfare interests was out of line. The DFL spoke before they listened.

But when people of reason and this newspaper were calling for both houses to pass the bills separately, as both sides had supported both proposals in the past, the calls went unheeded.

Republicans in the House went ahead and passed a bill with both provisions, knowing that the DFL Senate was not going to accept that. We don’t know if the House GOP wasn’t paying attention to Senate DFL Majority Leader Tom Bakk when he said his majority was not going to accept or vote on the GOP combination bill, but they should have been.

So the GOP move to do it anyway caused needless delays. To what end, we don’t know. Another day of partisan headlines? There was no real reason to tie the bills together, though Republicans said they were unsure the tax relief bill would pass. That was an unsubstantiated assumption, and they would have plenty of political material having Gov. Mark Dayton on record supporting the unemployment tax cuts to employers in the past.

But, to their credit, House minority DFLers voted for the GOP combo bill. Kudos to them.

The Senate then passed both bills separately with a bipartisan vote in their body. The House, somewhat reluctantly, eventually went along. We can’t give any credence to House Speaker Kurt Daudt when he said his House broke the gridlock. Not quite.

Bakk did his share of chest pounding on this, calling out the GOP in public about what he would or wouldn’t do. We feel a little discretion and common courtesy on the part of both parties would take away the need for brinksmanship.

It would also get things done. That’s what voters want.

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St. Cloud Times, March 24

Don’t fight DNR rules for Mille Lacs

From Internet chat rooms to the halls of Minnesota’s Capitol, the state’s unveiling Monday of walleye-fishing rules for Mille Lacs Lake from May 14-Dec. 1 created what’s become a predictable wave of - pardon the fishing pun - backlash.

Witness District 15 Sen. Dave Brown. The Republican from Becker declared he will author a bill to replace the DNR’s catch-and-release-only rule with a two-walleye limit and override the DNR’s rule that no live bait be allowed. His reason? Help the Mille Lacs area’s economy immediately without regard to the lake’s future.

Several factors make Brown’s idea a terrible one. More importantly, though, Rep. Sondra Erickson of District 15A already has authored several bills that offer a more realistic, holistic approach for the lake and local economy. Brown, who is not seeking re-election, should spotlight Erickson’s proposals, not push back against the new rules.

For starters - and unlike Brown’s knee-jerk proposal - the new rules have the support of fisheries experts and roots in the Mille Lacs Fisheries Advisory Committee, whose members have vested interest in the lake’s long-term health.

While it’s easy to offer armchair criticism of how Mille Lacs is managed, the reality is the DNR is making decisions based on decades of data and millions of dollars of research compiled by highly trained scientists. Sorry, but those credentials far outweigh anecdotes from unscientific anglers, much less politicians pandering only to pocketbooks.

It’s also worth stressing that these rules - catch-and-release-only and no live bait - were talked about by the 17-member advisory committee, which formed in October and represents anglers, local businesses, tourism interests and some sharp critics of the DNR.

Instead of meddling with the DNR, Brown and the rest of the Legislature should debate several proposals from Erickson. Among those:

- HF 3458, a $30 million, three-year plan providing grants and interest-free or forgivable loans, bolstering tourism promotions and abating some taxes to help the economy until the fishery improves.

- HF 2788 requires the DNR to negotiate with Ojibwe bands to stop using gill nets during walleye spawning periods for three years. That’s a start, but the state really should reach a deal that ends all netting. As this board has stated, that eliminates the biggest political factor in the Mille Lacs equation.

- HF 1759 requires treaty-rights meetings involving the DNR, Ojibwe bands, and the Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission be open to the public.


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