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Associated Press, Published August 01 2013

Dayton considers special session for disaster aid

ST. PAUL — Gov. Mark Dayton's staff has contacted Minnesota's legislative leaders about convening a special session to provide disaster relief to communities hit by severe storms, a top aide said Thursday.

Bob Hume, Dayton's deputy chief of staff, told The Associated Press the governor wouldn't call lawmakers back to St. Paul without a signed agreement limiting the emergency session's scope. No timetable for the session has been set.

He said Dayton's team had reached out to the top Democrat and Republican in the House and Senate asking for "a bipartisan agreement for a special session to pay the state's share of disaster funding."

Mike Howard, a spokesman for Democratic House Speaker Paul Thissen, said the discussions are at an early stage.

"We are still gathering information to identify the need for and scope of immediate state relief," Howard said. "If we need to act, we will be working with the governor's office and legislative leaders to secure broad bipartisan support for a one-day special session focused solely on disaster relief, as we have in years past."

Republican House and Senate leaders weren't immediately available for comment, but House GOP spokeswoman Susan Closemore said there haven't yet been formal negotiations involving top lawmakers.

In the past decade, lawmakers have convened three one-day special sessions to approve disaster assistance. One came last year in response to severe flooding in and around Duluth.

President Barack Obama recently signed a federal declaration for 18 Minnesota counties hit by severe storms, high winds and flooding in June. It paves the way for federal aid for recovery and rebuilding efforts, but that must be partly matched by the state. The amount of state money at issue is a mere $4.5 million, but legislative authorization could be needed to release it.

The counties covered by the declaration are Benton, Big Stone, Douglas, Faribault, Fillmore, Freeborn, Grant, Hennepin, Houston, McLeod, Morrison, Pope, Sibley, Stearns, Stevens, Swift, Traverse and Wilkin. The storms occurred between June 20 and 26.

Governors typically seek signed agreements before ordering special sessions to avoid turning them into free-for-alls.

That agreement could be hard to get because Republicans have been pressuring the governor to call a special session to repeal a controversial new warehousing tax. The tax doesn't take hold until April, so Dayton has said it could be dealt with in next year's regular session that begins in February. But Republican lawmakers have said that companies affected by the sales tax on warehouse rental space need more time to plan and could be discouraged by the tax from expanding.

Democratic Rep. Ryan Winkler of Golden Valley said any session should include legislation to raise the minimum wage. A bill to boost the floor wage stalled in the regular session's final days in May despite being a top priority of majority Democrats and labor unions.

Dayton's office wants to curb any desire for a broader agenda.

"There will be no tolerance for political grandstanding on either side of the aisle when disaster relief is at stake," Hume said.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.