Unemployment benefits created quite a discussion in the House of Representatives’ Thursday sessions.
The House Unemployment Insurance Accountability Act of 2012 passed the House by a vote of 75 ayes, 16 nays and 1 present not voting.
Reps. Rick Womick (R-Rockvale), Mike Sparks (R-Smyrna) and Pat Marsh (R-Shelbyville) were all listed as prime co-sponsors on House Bill 3431. Rep. Joe Carr (R-Lascassas) was not a co-sponsored, but joined the others in voting for the bill.
The Senate version, Senate Bill 3658, passed the Senate Finance, Ways & Means Committee Thursday morning and was referred to the Senate Calendar Committee to be scheduled for a vote by the full Senate. Sen. Bill Ketron (R-Murfreesboro) is a prime co-sponsor of the Senate bill.
According to Rep. Jimmy Matlock (R-Lenoir), the bill’s sponsor, said, “A very important piece of legislation that will clarifies language already in the code. This bill, as amended, sharpens the definition of employee misconduct to make sure that only people who are laid off through no fault of their own receive unemployment benefits.”
Among the provisions of the bill are the following:
• Benefits will be denied for misconduct that includes “conscious disregard,” which is basically insubordination.
• Incarcerated individuals are prohibited from receiving benefits.
• Recipients must provide proof of job searches. “This section encourages active, and continuous job searches by requiring that job seekers provide a detailed record of contact with at least three employers,” Matlock said, adding that the Department of Labor must conduct a random weekly audit of 1,000 recipients to make sure the searches are legitimate.
• Employers will be allowed to send the DOL documentation on an employee if they foresee parting of the ways, in order to expedite the process.
• Employees cannot receive unemployment benefits until their severance pay is exhausted.
• The employee must take another job with the employer if the pay is similar, and,
• The employee must take an employer mandated drug test if they are offered work. If they refuse to take the test or fail it, their benefits may be denied.
Some Democrats rose in opposition for fear it would hurt some good workers who may have “an unscrupulous employer who could use this to get rid of anyone,” House Democratic Caucus Chair Rep. Mike Turner said.
“Nothing in here protects the employee from the unscrupulous business man who’s going out of business. He could find a reason under this legislation to fire all of them and deny them unemployment,” the Old Hickory representative said.
• On Wednesday, Gov. Bill Haslam’s bill requiring mandatory jail time for people with repeat violence convictions passed the House of Representatives 98-1.
Some objected because they viewed it as an unfunded mandate for local jails who will be housing these individuals, even though money was included in the bill to increase the reimbursement to the local jails by $2 dollars per day, for a total annual cost of about $4 million.
The bill mandates a minimum sentence of 30 days for second offenders and 90 days for people convicted three or more time.
• A bill passed in the Senate 31-0 on Wednesday would give parents veto power in advance over which extracurricular groups in public schools they want their children to join.
The proposal, if it becomes law, would require each school to publish a list of approved clubs and organization in a student handbook, giving parents an opportunity to notify the school which ones they did not want their children joining.
An amendment was added by the Senate requiring the parental option to prohibit membership be prominently displayed in the handbook. The House is scheduled to vote on the bill Monday, April 23.
• Passing by a vote of 29-0 in the Senate on Wednesday, the “Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act,” the bill awaits a floor vote in the House. It was placed on the House calendar for April 16, but was held on the desk, presumably to see if it would pass in the Senate first.
If it passes the House and becomes law, the bill would require the local education agency (LEA) to treat a student’s voluntary expression of his or her religious viewpoints in the same way the LEA would treat a secular or other viewpoint.
The policy, which must be adopted by the 2013-2014 school year, would include speaking publicly at school events, expressing their religious beliefs through homework and art in “permissible” subjects and granting the same access to school facilities for student-led prayer groups or religious clubs as is granted for other extracurricular school activities or organizations.