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The House voted 75-57 to pass its workforce and economic development bill that increases funding for a variety of state programs that are designed to spur new business activity. The bill drew fire from Republicans over a provision to allow locked out workers to receive unemployment benefits for three years.

House passes economic development bill

Rep. Tim Mahoney (Staff photo: Peter Bartz-Gallagher)

The House has passed its workforce and economic development bill that increases funding for a variety of state programs that are designed to spur new business activity.

“This is bread and butter, meat and potatoes economic development,” said the bill’s author, Rep. Tim Mahoney, DFL-St. Paul.

GOP Reps. Jim Abeler and Bob Gunther joined all DFLers in passing the bill 75-57 after more than five-and-a-half hours of debate.

The bill increases funding by $46 million over the base budget. Its business incentive spending includes $20 million for the Minnesota Investment Fund and $18.5 million for the Minnesota Job Creation Fund. As for workforce development, the bill increases the job skills partnership by $2.25 million to bring its total funding up to $10.6 million for the biennium. The state Department of Employment and Economic Development is called upon in the bill to add three new foreign offices in key markets to add to the state’s only current foreign office in China.

Republicans assailed a provision in the bill to give additional unemployment benefits to locked-out workers for up to three years. A few recent lockouts in Minnesota have made news, including the Minnesota Orchestra and St. Paul Chamber Orchestra and the American Crystal Sugar workers, whose 20-month lockout ended over the weekend.

Rep. Denny McNamara, R-Hastings, said no other state in the nation gives extended unemployment benefits for locked-out workers.

“This is getting in the middle of a dispute. This is taking a side in a dispute and that’s not right,” McNamara said.

Mahoney, who is chairman of the House Jobs and Economic Development Finance and Policy Committee, repeatedly said that a national law firm is helping business strategize lockouts.

“I’m going to call it compassionate,” Mahoney said. “When businesses organize together…to break the backs of working people, my compassion goes to the working people.”

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, successfully offered a floor amendment to bar the benefits to locked-out workers who made more than $150,000 in the year before the lockout. The conservative Republican won a rare victory in the DFL-controlled chamber as his amendment passed 87-45. There were 24 DFL representatives who voted in favor of the amendment: Speaker Paul Thissen and Reps. Lyn Carlson, Jim Davnie, Tim Faust, Peter Fischer, Laurie Halverson, Ann Lenczewski, Tina Liebling, Sandy Masin, Nena Moran, Will Morgan, Joe Mullery, Jerry Newton, Kim Norton, Gene Pelowski, John Persell, Joe Radinovich, Paul Rosenthal, Shannon Savick, Mary Sawatzky, Dan Schoen, Yvonne Selcer, John Ward, Joann Ward and Barb Yarusso.

Drazkowski, however, unsuccessfully tried to forbid the additional benefits for workers who reject a contract that was for salary and benefits higher than the last year of the previous contract.

Buried in the bill is an unusual provision that would allow only licensed barbers to put a barber pole on their business. Mahoney said barbers were concerned that licensed cosmetologists were putting up barber poles to create the impression that they are barbers. The bill prohibits people from placing a barber pole “in a location that would create or tend to create the impression to the public that the business is a barber shop unless the operator holds a valid license under this chapter.”

Drazkowski said the barber pole prohibition is “ridiculous.”

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