The bill, sponsored by Rep. Jack Williams, R-Vestavia Hills, would allow unemployed people to earn up to one-third of the amount of their unemployment check from work without losing their unemployment benefits. For someone receiving an unemployment check of $265 per week – the maximum allowed in Alabama – that would allow up to $88 of paid work per week. The current limit is $15.
“What this is designed to do is allow people to get back to work,” Williams said.
Williams said the bill would allow people who’ve been unemployed to do temporary work that would bring home extra money – while giving them a chance to demonstrate to employers that they’re worth hiring. He said that when the $15 limit on work-related pay was established in the 1960s, $15 was nearly half as much as the average unemployment check.
“The Legislature in the 1960s, in their wisdom, felt you should be able to make 40 or 45 percent” of the amount of an unemployment check,” Williams said. He said the $15 limit was “public policy that encourages people not to work.”
The bill initially came under attack from some of Williams’ fellow Republicans, and one independent member of the House.
Rep. Jim McClendon, R-Springville, asked about the bill’s estimated $980,000 cost to the state’s unemployment trust fund, which is funded largely by payments from employers.
“You mean our businesses are going to have to come up with a million dollars?” McClendon asked.
Rep. Richard Laird, I-Roanoke, said the bill amounted to a tax hike on businesses, because employer contributions to the unemployment trust fund automatically goes up when the trust fund is drawn down to a certain level.
“Don’t be fooled into the idea that this is not a tax increase,” Laird said on the House floor.
Williams asked that the bill be set aside temporarily, so he could discuss it with other lawmakers. When the bill came back to the floor, it passed 74-9. House records show McClendon and Laird, among other former critics of the bill, voting “yes” in that final tally.
Laird said he changed his mind on the bill after Williams told him it was supported by the Department of Labor – and after he learned that the unemployment trust fund had $220 million in it, more than enough to cover the cost of the bill.
Despite his recorded “yes” vote, Laird told The Star after the House adjourned that he was talking to constituents at the end of Thursday’s session, and didn’t know that the bill had come up for a final vote. House members have a long-standing practice of leaving instructions for fellow lawmakers to vote in their place if they have to leave the chamber.
The bill by Williams now goes to the Senate for a vote.
The House convened for only about two hours in what was an unusual day of deliberation – but the least bizarre day on Goat Hill this week. House and Senate business limped along on Tuesday and Wednesday, with many lawmakers unable to reach Montgomery due to the recent snowstorm. Only 59 of the 105 House members were present when lawmakers first convened Thursday; it was the first time this week that the House had a quorum.
In the Senate, lawmakers voted to pass more than a half-dozen mostly non-controversial bills, including a ban on sex with animals. Alabama has never passed a law making bestiality a crime, and the Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Tom Whatley, R-Auburn, would make it a misdemeanor. The bill passed 20-1, according to Senate records. Sen. Hank Sanders, D-Selma, who was recorded as a “no” vote later said that he supported the bill and his vote was recorded in error.
Both houses passed separate bills that would make the penalty for negligent homicide for people boating while drunk the same as the penalty for negligent homicide while drunk driving. One version of that bill – the House or Senate version – will have to pass a second house for the bill to become law.
The more controversial bills that came before the Senate Thursday were set aside for later debate, largely due to the fact that about a third of senators weren’t present to debate them. Senators set aside a bill to allow the death penalty when a defendant kills someone who has a restraining order against the defendant; a bill to set up an independent court to hear state tax appeals; and a bill that would prohibit the state from revoking a doctor’s license for refusing to participate in any public or private health care plans. All those bills met with opposition from Senate Democrats Thursday.
President Pro Tempore Del Marsh, R-Anniston, said the Senate would likely take up sunset bills – re-approvals of state board that are authorized to exist for a limited time – when lawmakers return on Tuesday.
Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.
HOW THEY VOTED
A “yes” vote would allow people on employment to earn up to $88 per week without losing their unemployment benefits.
Rep. Barbara Boyd, D-Anniston – Yes
Rep. K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville – Yes
Rep. Steve Hurst, R-Munford – Yes
Rep. Becky Nordgren, R-Gadsden – Did Not Vote
Rep. Randy Wood, R-Saks – No