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Unemployment Overhaul Moving Through Florida House

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MIAMI (CBS4) – The GOP-dominated state House committee has given approval to a rewrite of Florida’s unemployment compensation laws that will cut benefits to the jobless and make it harder to secure benefits.

According to the News Service of Florida, Republican Representative Erik Fresen said the rewrite of the legislation is needed because businesses are having trouble paying rising unemployment tax rates due to the number of businesses that collapsed in the Great Recession.

“There is no employee without an employer,” Fresen said. “We have to assure there is a climate where businesses can grow.”

The new rules are virtually the same as Governor Rick Scott’s plan released earlier in February. It would impact workers in three main ways.

First, it will drop the duration of state unemployment benefits from 26 to 20 weeks. Second, it will maintain the current maximum payment of $275-a-week for unemployment benefits. Third, it would tie the benefits to the state’s unemployment rate.

Tying the benefits to the state’s unemployment rate would mean a jobless worker could receive a check for a maximum of 12 weeks if unemployment hits 5 percent or less.

Democratic Representative Joe Abruzzo accused the GOP of advancing a “socialized bill,” because it shifted the costs away from businesses by limiting benefits to unemployed worker. Abruzzo said that would force jobless Floridians onto state Medicaid rolls and other taxpayer-financed assistance programs.

The legislation is being pushed by the National Federation of Independent Business, the Florida Retail Federation and the state Chamber of Commerce.

The bill would also make it easier for companies to challenge a fired or laid-off workers unemployment claim, making it even more difficult for workers being crushed in a crumbling economy to receive any aid.

The state of Florida currently owes interest on $1.8 billion the state has borrowed from the federal government during the past two years to continue paying unemployment benefits. President Barack Obama has proposed allowing the states to postpone the interest payments.

However, Republicans in charge of the Florida House and Senate said that deferring the payments isn’t an option and they are intent on reworking the state’s unemployment system.

(© 2011 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.)

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