House votes party line on jobless rewriteby John Kennedy | March 10th, 2011
The House approved overhauling the state’s unemployment compensation system, cutting benefits and reducing tax rates in a strict, party-line vote.
The 81-38 vote in the Republican-dominated House was designed as a first-week-of-the-session message that the GOP is looking to help businesses rebound — possibly at the expense of Florida’s jobless.
The move came even as the state’s Agency for Workforce Innovation reported Thursday that the state’s unemployment rate hit 11.9 percent in January, down slightly from December’s 12 percent level. The state lost 13,000 jobs in January, AWI said.
But Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, said the House bill (HB 7005) will help turnaround what he called a “capsized economy.”
“It sends a resounding message to the business community: Florida is the place to be,” Holder said.
But Democrats, who unanimously opposed the measure, said the measure would hurt out-of-work Floridians.
“I’m pro-business. But I’m also pro-people,” said Rep. Alan Williams, D-Tallahassee.
The House legislation mirrors a proposal unveiled earlier this year by Gov. Rick Scott. It 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 falls to 5 percent or less.
The reduction would only affect Floridians joining the jobless rolls after the legislation becomes law – which the House measure sets for Aug. 1. Federal unemployment payments, which currently extend as long as 99 weeks, would still kick-in when state coverage is exhausted.
Although 1.1 million Floridians are out-of-work, the state’s unemployment system is already among the strictest in the nation. Only about 400,000 currently qualify for benefits because the standard to qualify for benefits excludes many short-term and seasonal workers.
Along with reducing benefits, the measure also adds new authority for employers to challenge a laid-off worker’s claim, while making the jobless undergo a “skills review” and show proof they are actively seeking work.