DFLers look to aid black Minnesotans in special session

Extending benefits for unemployed steel workers should be a top priority if a special legislative session happens, but it also needs to look at ways to help black Minnesotans, Gov. Mark Dayton and DFL Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk say.

Bakk, DFL-Cook, told MPR News that lawmakers should look at how they can help African-Americans struggling in the economy.

"I believe there's some legislation ready to go to try to address some of those disparities in the black communities, specifically in the urban areas," said Bakk, noting recent reports showing "the disparity in black income and the persistent unemployment there," Bakk said.

Dayton later on Wednesday Dayton endorsed Bakk's idea. "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," the governor said.

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Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis said one bill left over from last session would fund a small business development program for communities of colors. He said another would fund a job-skill training program.

“There seem to be a lot of employers who are looking for workers," he said. "But what they’re saying is that the workers don’t have the skills to meet the demand. This really helps bridge that gap. And then we also know that people have always said that small business is the backbone of our economic success in this country.”

Hayden said it’s appropriate for lawmakers to address urban economic issues at the same time they provide assistance to the Iron Range. He said he’ll propose a broader package aimed at racial disparities during the 2016 session.

Senate Democrats have also suggested Tuesday that a one-day special session could include making state drivers licenses comply with federal ID standards. Dayton said he was willing to consider that, even though he believed it could wait until the next regular session begins in March.

Bakk said Wednesday the special session agenda could also expand to include helping resort owners and other businesses around Lake Mille Lacs.

Dayton proposed a special session earlier this year focused on the walleye decline in Mille Lacs, but legislators weren't receptive to the idea.

House Republicans still haven't said whether they're open to a special session, much less what the agenda should include.

(Tim Pugmire contributed to this report)