As DFL highlights legislative priorities, aid for laid off Northland workers could be on the way

Published: Jan. 4, 2023 at 4:25 PM CST
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ST. PAUL, MN -- Minnesota’s Legislative Session convened for its second day Wednesday, and the DFL party wasted no time addressing its legislative priorities.

Caucus leaders late out a comprehensive list of 12 priorities, ranging from reproductive rights to paid family leave and sick time.

They reiterated that codifying abortion access into law is their top priority, and a bill will likely be introduced this week.

“We truly are moving swiftly, more swiftly than I can remember in my two years of service, because that’s what most of us expected,” said House Majority Leader Melissa Hortman, who represents the Brooklyn Park area. “We’re aligned on our values and our priorities, and we’re ready to work hard and work quickly to meet the needs of Minnesotans.”

While the caucus is eager to tackle legislation that’s been stalled for years due to a divided state government, some Northland lawmakers hope to make an immediate impact for their constituents.

“Our workers at the North Shore mine and the processing plant in Silver Bay have been laid off since May. And so early on during the summer we called for a special session to address their unemployment,” said Senator Grand Hauschild, a newly elected DFL’er representing the state’s 3rd District.

Hauschild is referencing a bill introduced by former Representative Rob Ecklund in August; it never hit the floor as the two parties couldn’t agree on a special session.

Unemployment benefits for 410 laid-off Northshore Mining workers in Babbitt and Silver Bay expired in November.

Senator Hauschild and Representative Dave Lislegard, a DFL’er from Aurora, hope to restore those benefits as quickly as possible.

“We had folks going into the holidays, going into the winter months without that pay. And so this is just a really, really critical need,” Hauschild said.

Lislegard is optimistic that the DFL’s legislative trifecta presents a unique opportunity to get the bill passed without worrying about legislative gridlock.

“We have an opportunity to do things quickly, both being in the majority to help these families and that’s what we’re really committed to doing,” he said. “I have a hearing, and we’re hoping [to introduce it] next week. But we do have to go through the process”

While they didn’t specifically weigh in on the bill Hauschild and Llegard hope introduce, GOP party leaders in St. Paul called the DFL’s priorities “divisive.”

They accused the DFL of rushing through their own priorities without bipartisan support.

Cliffs spokespeople have said they expect their facilities to remain idle until mid-2023.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar also recently met with Silver Bay’s mayor and laid off employees, hoping to learn how she can help.

In a statement, Klobuchar, a democrat, said she plans to work with local lawmakers to help get unemployment benefits extended.