Lawmakers mull how special session could address racial inequality

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Minnesota lawmakers are trying to figure out what they might do in a special legislative session to help the state's black community, according to the Associated Press.

Gov. Mark Dayton has said he wants a special session to extend unemployment benefits for laid off Iron Range steelworkers. Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk has said they should also address economic issues facing the black community in that session. There's been no decision whether or not such a meeting will take place, KARE 11 reports.

State numbers released this fall showed the average income of Minnesota's African-Americans is falling and is now less than half of what white residents are making, with more than one-third of black households living in poverty.

Earlier this month Dayton said he is in favor of discussing the economic issues black Minnesotans face.

“Sen. Bakk rightly expressed the urgency of the challenges facing communities of color in Minnesota. I thank Sen. Bakk and his caucus for their leadership,” Dayton said in an emailed statement. “I agree that any special session concerning the economic hardships of steelworkers on the Iron Range, should also begin to address the serious economic disparities facing black Minnesotans.” 

However, it's not clear what plan – if any – is in place. According to KARE, Sen. Jeffrey Hayden, who is one of three black state lawmakers, says the Legislature could provide job training grants for minority workers or start-up money for black entrepreneurs. The AP says it could also provide incentives to encourage businesses to hire minority employees.

Sen. Bakk and Rep. Raymond Dehn say reducing drug sentences, changing policing standards and other broader proposals might have to be pushed off for a while, according to AP.

House Republicans have not said if they're open to a special session. Republican House Speaker Kurt Daudt says he wants the governor to promise he won't delay or interfere with the PolyMet or Sandpiper Pipeline projects first, the Duluth News Tribune reports.

Another topic that's been considered for a special session this year is Minnesota's lack of compliance with federal ID standards. Dayton has said the ID standards can wait until the Legislature meets again starting March 8, 2016.

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