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Don Davis, Forum News Service, Published April 20 2013

MINN. LEGISLATIVE NOTEBOOK: Senators remove lockout benefit extension plan

ST. PAUL – Minnesota senators removed extended unemployment benefits for workers locked out by employers in labor disputes during a Friday bill debate.

The provision was a Democratic response to a 20-month lockout by American Crystal Sugar Co., as well as a pair of Twin Cities orchestra labor disputes. American Crystal employees and performers in one orchestra recently voted to accept contracts their employers offered.

Sen. Bill Ingebrigtsen, R-Alexandria, used the American Crystal example, saying Minnesotans would pay if unemployment benefits were extended two years as the provision sought.

“We all know who pays for that,” he said. “You and I are going to pay for that at the store.”

Senators complained that professional athletes whose teams locked them out would have been covered by the additional unemployment payments.

Sen. David Tomassoni, DFL-Chisholm, offered to amend his bill to reduce the unemployment extension to a year and exclude pro athletes from added benefits. His effort lost 33-31.

The amendment to remove the lockout provisions from a larger bill passed 34-31. Rep. Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, offered the successful amendment.

A lockout provision remains active in a House bill, so it could return to the Senate next month embedded in another bill.

Tomassoni said locked-out workers need help when their wages dry up: “They can’t put food on the table, they can’t pay for insurance, they can’t pay for the car.”

Current law normally gives locked-out workers 26 weeks of unemployment payments.

Thissen names vet panel

House Speaker Paul Thissen has appointed a committee to recommend the next step in military veterans’ homes.

The Minneapolis Democrat took the action Friday at about the same time veterans’ organizations complained that the House public works finance bill did not fund a $54 million project to complete work on the Minneapolis Veterans’ Home.

A news release announcing the Thissen decision said: “The Select Committee on Veterans Housing will research, investigate and report on the current state of housing for Minnesota veterans and ultimately recommend policies to assure safe, high-quality and cost-effective housing options are available for Minnesota veterans.”

Thissen’s decision mirrors the wishes of Rep. Alice Hausman, DFL-St. Paul, who leads the House committee that recommends public works projects. She said on Friday that each bed in the Minneapolis location would cost thousands of dollars.

Earlier this month, Hausman said she wants a statewide study before decisions are made about where state funding should go for veterans’ homes. Legislators have proposals for at least three new veterans’ homes, in Montevideo, Brainerd and Bemidji.

State Veterans’ Affairs Department officials say their top priority is fixing the Minneapolis facility, but have no overall plans for new homes.

“This committee will dig into the details of this issue and come back with solutions that are in the best interest of our veterans throughout Minnesota,” Thissen said.

Members of the committee are Reps. Jerry Newton, DFL-Coon Rapids; Hausman; Mary Murphy, DFL-Hermantown; Karen Clark, DFL-Minneapolis; Tom Huntley, DFL-Duluth; Bob Dettmer, R-Forest Lake; Paul Anderson, R-Starbuck; Jim Abeler, R-Anoka; and Matt Dean, R-Dellwood.

The report is due next Feb. 1.

Public safety OK’d

The House overwhelmingly voted to fund public safety programs for the next two years.

On a 122-7 Friday vote, representatives decided to do things like replace an old computerized criminal history system, begin restoring cuts to the state Office of Justice and buy public safety equipment.

The bill also would establish a school safety center to help local districts prevent shootings like have been in the news lately.

Programs to serve crime victims would receive a boost in state funds.

Judicial budget up

Judges and other court workers would receive pay raises under a bill state representatives backed Friday.

Courts would get nearly $800 million under the bill that passed 71-59.

The bill would impose a $2 fee on each court filing, to be used to technology improvement, increase criminal and traffic surcharges and raise a graduated filing fee for conciliation court claims.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said the bill’s $50 million increase from the current two-year budget cycle is too much.

“This bill is a classic example of the Democrats joy in spending other people’s money, Drazkowski said. “Instead of forcing government to live within its means, hard-working Minnesotans will be forced to pay millions of dollars in fee and surcharge increases over the next two years just so six-figure salaried judges can get a big pay raise.”

Earlier, Chief Justice Lori S. Gildea said in an interview that the court is losing workers because of an inability to raise salaries. Judge pay is behind what they receive in other states, she added.