Friday, June 17, 2011

Benefits Preserved, Unemployment Comp Reform Passed

State government can move quickly, when it wants to.

This morning, the Senate gaveled into session and took care of a few housekeeping notes. The chamber then recessed for a Rules Committee meeting, where, with no debate, the panel approved Senate Bill 1030 on a 14-0 vote. Once the full Senate reconvened, a few lawmakers praised the unemployment compensation reform bill, and the chamber voted unanimously to send it to Governor Corbett’s desk. And just like that, at the last possible moment, lawmakers avoided halting unemployment checks for 45,000 people.

Governor Corbett will sign the measure “as soon as he gets it,” according to his spokesman, Kevin Harley.

In addition to freezing future benefits and requiring people to actively look for work, while receiving benefits, the new law will institute a “work-share” program, which will allow companies to avoid mass layoffs. This is something Democrats and labor leaders have wanted for years. Instead of laying off workers, companies “could reduce the hours for their employees on a voluntary basis, employer and employees, or employer and unions, by 20 percent, and allow the individuals to collect a partial unemployment,” explained Republican sponsor John Gordner. “So that they would not be out in regard to amount of monies, but rather than be laid off, they could continue to work, which is of benefit to the employer and employee.”

The new law is the first overhaul of Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation system since 1988, and will save an estimated $114 million a year. That still won’t solve Pennsylvania’s long-term problems – the state’s fund has been bankrupt since early 2009, leading to a more than $3 billion loan from Washington, DC – but lawmakers on both sides of the aisle hailed it as a substantial reform.

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