Updated May 6, 2015
By TIM ROWDEN
Jefferson City – Not satisfied with their efforts to pass deceptive right-to-work, paycheck deception and anti-prevailing wage legislation, the Missouri Legislature last week approved a bill shortening the length of time a person can claim unemployment insurance in good economic times by tying that limit to the unemployment rate.
This bill, House Bill 150, ties unemployment benefits to the state’s jobless rate and would have cut the number of weeks someone could receive benefits to 13 weeks when the jobless rate dips below 6 percent.
Twenty-four House Republicans and Independent Keith English of St. Louis County joined Democrats in voting against the measure, but it passed by a vote of 88-68.
Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed the bill on May 5. The measure fell 29 votes short of a 109-vote veto-proof majority when it first passed the House. But the sponsor, Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Barry County) said he expects that to change.
Current law allows unemployed workers to receive benefits for 20 weeks.
House Bill 150, sponsored by Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick (R-Shell Knob), would create a tiered system that would allow unemployment benefits for up to 20 weeks when the average state unemployment rate is nine percent or higher, to as few as 13 weeks when the rate drops below six percent.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Missouri’s unemployment rate averaged 6.4 percent in 2014, and more than 40 percent of workers were unemployed for more than 15 weeks.
The Senate approved its version of the bill a week earlier but made a change that adds severance pay to determining eligibility for jobless benefits.
MOST IN NEED
House Minority Leader Jake Hummel (D-St. Louis) a member of IBEW Local 1 and secretary-treasurer of the Missouri AFL-CIO argued the plan would hurt a person’s ability to change professions after being laid off.
“When these people get laid off what they’re doing is they’re taking these packages, these payouts, they’re going to school, and learning a new skill,” Hummel said. “It seems like we’re pulling the rug out from under them at a time when they need it most.”
Meanwhile, GOP legislators are charging ahead with their effort to make what jobs are available lower paying, less secure and less safe.
Senate Bill 127, a right-to-work bill, is on the Senate Calendar and could come up for debate this week.