Friday, June 10, 2011

Lawmakers To Vote Next Week On Jobless Benefits Bill

Saturday’s federal deadline for Pennsylvania to pass an unemployment compensation reform bill will come and pass without a new law on the books.

Pennsylvania has been borrowing federal money to pay out benefits since 2009, and now owes nearly $4 billion to Washington. If the state doesn’t implement new changes by the 11th, extended unemployment benefits funded by federal money will evaporate for 45,000 people.

However, lawmakers have figured out they actually have until June 17th, due to paperwork processing delays at the Department of Labor and Industry. So, like a college student typing out a last-minute term paper they’re taking advantage of the extra time, and won’t vote until next week.

House Republican spokesman Steve Miskin chalked the delay up to the legislative process. “Two chambers, 253 members, there’s clearly just differences of opinion,” he said.

House and Senate Republicans are, for the most part, on the same page with the new compromise legislation, which would trim $147 million in annual costs, and require recipients to actively look for work, among other changes. The new language was inserted into the bill this week by the House Labor and Industry Committee, and is now in front of the full chamber.

Senate Republican John Gordner, who’s leading negotiations on the issue for his caucus, said he doesn’t like provisions of the House bill that deal with “willful misconduct” and “voluntary quit” issues, which essentially dictate what benefits a person is eligible for after he or she voluntarily leaves a job. Gordner said the Senate will make additional changes, if the current language stays in the bill. That would delay the process and likely extend it beyond June 17th, but Miskin said House Republicans won’t back down. “We don’t feel there’s any reason for any contention,” he said. “40 other states have the same standard. Labor in the other states seem to be fine with it, and people aren’t being deprived of their rightful benefits. So we’re not sure what any issue is. It’s reasonable, and it’s common sense.”

A House vote will likely come Tuesday or Wednesday. When the measure reaches the Senate, the upper chamber will act quickly, according to Senate Republican spokesman Erik Arneson. “We are very focused on the time pressure to get this bill done, the need to do it quickly. We hope to act the same day the House passes it to us. If not the same day, the day after,” he said. The Senate is scheduled to be in session Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Arneson said leaders are willing to stay through Friday, if they need the extra time to pass the law.

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