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House fails to vote on bill extending unemployment benefits to mine workers

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Hopes that lawmakers in the Minnesota House would vote on a bill extending unemployment benefits to laid off Iron Range workers were dashed on Tuesday, the first day of the 2016 legislature session.

Both Republicans and Democrats had agreed it was important to extend unemployment benefits to iron ore workers as early in the session as possible, but the Republican-controlled House failed to pass a motion in order to vote on the bill after nearly two hours of debating, Session Daily reports.

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The motion got a 71-59 vote, but a two-thirds majority (90 votes) was needed to suspend House rules for the chamber to take up the bill without going through committee, Forum News Service explains. Now the bill will go to committees, but the publication says it could return to the full House this week or next week.

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The proposal would have provided a 26-week extension of unemployment benefits and also reduce the taxes Minnesota businesses pay into the unemployment insurance trust fund.

Reducing unemployment taxes on businesses while extending benefits to the thousands of laid off workers is what many House Democrats had a problem with – they had asked House Speaker Kurt Daudt for "clean" unemployment extension bill.

"We need you today,” Rep. Tom Anzelc, DFL-Balsam Township, said, according to Session Daily. “We need you to help us extend unemployment benefits, and let's leave other issues relative to the trust fund, and insurance premiums and other issues for another day.”

But Rep. Pat Garofalo, R-Farmington, who sponsored the bill, said Tuesday Democrats had previously supported similar cuts to unemployment trust funds, and asked "What logic is there in delaying the vote?," reports note.

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As for the bill's counterpart in the DFL-controlled Senate, the Committee on Finance discussed it at a meeting Tuesday afternoon, voting to recommend the bill be amended and passed, the Senate Information Office says.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, expected the proposal to move quickly through committee, with the possibility of a full Senate vote on Thursday, the Woodbury Bulletin reports.

A tense opening day

Overall it was a contentious opening day in the House and Senate, reports note. Lawmakers also argued over floor access during the session, which is smaller because of construction at the Capitol – only the House chamber and a hallway are open to the public, the Woodbury Bulletin says.

The Senate is also feeling the burden of construction – it is meeting in a temporary chamber.

Forum News Service says the rhetoric in both chambers was "much harsher" than it normally is on the first day of the session, noting minority leaders in the House and Senate aimed to make changes to decisions legislative leaders had previously made.

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