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Missouri to proceed with jobless benefit cuts

The Associated Press reports that the state Department of Labor will begin to abide by the provisions of House Bill 150, and in January begin to reduce the number of weeks the state will provide jobless benefits down to 13 weeks, unless blocked by a court.

You will recall, the State Legislature overrode Governor Nixon’s veto of House Bill 150, with the Senate taking final action during the veto session in September.

At Associated Industries of Missouri, we support the provisions of House Bill 150. An important change to modernize the state’s unemployment system is contained in the bill: a provision that does not allow a separated employee with a golden parachute or severance package to collect unemployment while still being paid at full rate. Currently, Missouri is behind in making this change to prevent “double dipping” by such employees. Even New York has made the change and no longer allows this practice.

The basis for the bill, tying the number of weeks of unemployment to the unemployment rate is simple common sense. If the unemployment rate is lower, more jobs are available for those that want to find jobs, so the number of weeks of assistance should be less than in times of extremely high unemployment.

The story from AP can be found below.

Gov. Jay Nixon’s administration is planning to implement legislation cutting Missouri’s unemployment benefits to one of the shortest periods nationally even though it has expressed concerns about the measure in the past.

Until now, Nixon has declined to say whether he actually would carry out the legislation that was passed last month when the Republican-led Senate voted to override the Democratic governor’s veto.

Spokespeople for Nixon’s office and his labor department confirmed in separate statements this week the administration plans to abide by the bill’s directive to begin cutting benefits in January unless blocked by a court.

The legislation links the duration of Missouri’s benefits to the unemployment rate, providing less when a lower percentage of the workforce is without jobs. If Missouri’s statewide unemployment rate remains below 6 percent, benefits would be cut from the current 20 weeks — which already is one of the shorter periods nationally — to as few as 13 weeks.

That would be lower than every state except North Carolina, where benefits currently are capped at 12 weeks under a similar sliding scale.

Missouri’s unemployment rate was 5.3 percent in September.

A lawsuit filed by a firm that works for the AFL-CIO asks the Cole County Circuit Court to declare the measure unconstitutional and issue an injunction against enforcing it.

No hearing has been scheduled for the lawsuit, which cites the timing of the Legislature’s votes.

After Nixon vetoed the bill, the House voted in May to override him.

But the Senate failed to act before the regular session ended May 15, instead waiting until a September session to complete the override. The lawsuit asserts the bill wasn’t eligible under the Missouri Constitution to be considered during the September session because it was vetoed in advance of the end of the regular session.

Nixon previously raised similar concerns. Former Missouri chief justice Michael Wolff, who now is dean of the Saint Louis University School of Law, also previously said he believes the Senate missed its window to act on the measure, known as House Bill 150.

“While serious questions remain unresolved over whether the legislature missed its opportunity to override the governor’s veto of House Bill 150, the department intends to implement the legislation while it monitors the pending litigation,” Lauren Schad, a spokeswoman for the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, said in an email to the Associated Press.

Democratic Attorney General Chris Koster, who is planning to run for governor next year to succeed the term-limited Nixon, previously had not taken a position on whether the cuts were enacted legally.

Koster spokeswoman Nanci Gonder said Thursday the attorney general’s office will defend the department’s decision to implement the cuts.

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