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Dayton wants special session to extend benefits for unemployed mine workers

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Gov. Mark Dayton wants to bring state lawmakers to St. Paul to extend unemployment benefits for Iron Range workers laid off because of the slump in the steel industry.

In a letter to DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk and Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt, Dayton urges a special session by early next year before nearly 600 Minnesotans exhaust their benefits under the state's unemployment insurance program.

Dayton writes that more than 1,400 Iron Range workers applied for benefits after this year's layoffs by mining companies. He says 596 of those workers will see unemployment insurance end in February or March. The Legislature is not scheduled to meet until March 8.

Minnesota has granted benefits extensions in the past when mass layoffs have hit an industry. Dayton's letter notes that lawmakers took that step earlier this year when avian flu idled many poultry workers – those those employees returned to work before the extended benefits were needed.

Will a special session really happen?

In Minnesota, only the governor can call a special session of the Legislature. But, as the Pioneer Press notes, governors typically insist that the leaders of the House and Senate agree ahead of time on what lawmakers will do during the session.

A spokeswoman for Bakk tells the Pioneer Press it's too early to say how the Senate will respond to Dayton's request, adding that DFLers will meet on Monday to discuss it.

Since their last session ended in May, Dayton has already tried to convince lawmakers to return to St. Paul. He urged a special session to approve economic aid to business hurt by the early shutdown of walleye fishing on Mille Lacs Lake this summer. But talks to arrange a special session broke down.

Layoffs have hit several of Minnesota's taconite mines and plants this year, as the downturn in the demand for steel has left mills with stockpiles of iron.

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