Proposal to ease unemployment benefit requirement advanced

The Legislature advanced a bill from general file April 9 that would exempt certain seasonal construction employees from a specific unemployment benefit requirement.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist34' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Curt Friesen'>Sen. Curt Friesen</a>
Sen. Curt Friesen

Currently, a person applying for unemployment benefits must prove that he or she is actively searching for employment. LB428, introduced by Henderson Sen. Curt Friesen, would waive this requirement for at least 120 days for highway construction employees who are prohibited by the state Department of Transportation from working during the winter months.

Nebraska’s highway contractors use a process called “attachment,” Friesen said, which allows construction employees who are laid off during the “off season” to receive unemployment benefits. The employee then returns to work for his or her employer when construction season begins in April.

“Nebraska’s weather only allows roads and bridges to be built during part of the year,” he said. “Contractors cannot afford to lose the skilled workforce to other jobs or other states with warmer weather.”

The state Department of Labor originally had proposed shortening the attachment period to eight weeks, Friesen said, which is far shorter than the typical attachment period that can last for four months.

A Business and Labor Committee amendment, adopted 42-0, would maintain the current attachment period for construction employees, but increase the amount that construction employers would contribute to the unemployment fund.

The amendment also would have incorporated provisions of LB306, as originally introduced by Bellevue Sen. Crawford. The bill advanced to final reading earlier this session before failing on a 20-15 vote. Twenty-five votes were needed.

Currently, a person who voluntarily leaves employment with “good cause” would be eligible for unemployment benefits under employment security law. The amended provisions would have added leaving employment to care for a family member with a serious health condition to the existing list of good cause reasons.

Crawford supported the amendment, saying that it would apply only to a small group of people who have exhausted all of their alternatives.

“This is not for a leave where you take care of a family member and come back to the same job,” she said. “This is only if you must leave your current employer and you’re actively seeking another job … that allows you to accommodate family caregiving.”

Columbus Sen. Mike Moser opposed including provisions of LB306 in the committee amendment. He said doing so would run counter to the original intent of unemployment insurance.

“To put in an exclusion to allow [employees] to get unemployment [benefits] right away when they quit to take care of a family member is a laudable goal,” Moser said. “But it is more of a social service type provision that should be handled in some other way than the unemployment fund.”

Lincoln Sen. Matt Hansen, who serves as chairperson of the Business and Labor Committee, introduced an amendment, adopted 37-4, which removed the provisions of LB306 from the committee amendment.

Senators then advanced LB428 to select file on a 44-0 vote.

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