House takes aim at joblessby John Kennedy | March 9th, 2011
The Republican-dominated House beat back Democratic attempts at weakening a tough new rewrite of Florida’s unemployment compensation laws.
The legislation (CS/HB 7005) cuts eligibility for Florida’s jobless and makes it tougher to claim benefits.
“It’s designed to balance the needs of the employer and the unemployed,” said Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, whose Economic Development and Tourism subcommittee crafted the bill.
But Democrats said the measure effectively is a handout to businesses that could hurt the economy by barring out-of-work Floridians from drawing needed cash, and might even spike the state’s already sky-high foreclosure rate.
“I’d suggest we strike the balance in favor of Floridians and not in favor of out-of-state corporations,” said Rep. Scott Randolph, D-Orlando.
The legislation mirrors a proposal unveiled earlier this month by Gov. Rick Scott, which reduces the duration of state unemployment benefits from 26 to 20 weeks, while maintaining the current maximum payment of $275-a-week.
Like Scott, the House plan also would tie benefits to the state’s unemployment rate. The period a jobless worker could receive a check would fall to a maximum of 12 weeks if unemployment hits 5 percent or less.
The reductions would only affect Floridians joining the jobless rolls after the legislation becomes law. Federal unemployment benefits, which currently extend as long as 99 weeks, could still kick-in when state coverage is exhausted. Critics pointed out, though, that the most generous federal standards are scheduled to end this year.
Florida’s unemployment rate hovers near 12 percent, with 1.1 million Floridians out-of-work. Only about 400,000 currently qualify for benefits
The House is set to vote on the measure Thursday. The Senate is advancing a similar bill, with a final vote expected in coming weeks.