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Insurance reform makes headway in Missouri

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Unemployment insurance reform is making a return to the Missouri Legislature after it was blocked last year by the state Supreme Court.

The Missouri House of Representatives yesterday perfected House Bill 288, sponsored by Rep. Scott Fitzpatrick, R-Shell Knob. The legislation would cap unemployment benefits at 13 weeks from 20 weeks when the state’s unemployment rate is below 6 percent, according to a news release from the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

“Missouri’s unemployment trust fund has borrowed money from the federal government during the last five economic downturns, costing employers millions of dollars in interest,” said Tracy King, the Missouri chamber’s vice president of governmental affairs, in the release. “This bill takes common-sense steps toward stabilizing our system. Employers, who fully fund our unemployment system, would much rather pay what is necessary to sustain claims than pay millions in useless interest charges.”

The bill proposes a sliding scale of unemployment benefits based on the state’s unemployment rate. On the high end, it moves to 20 weeks at 9 percent or higher.

Missouri’s unemployment insurance trust fund balance was $377.5 million as of Jan. 1, 2016, and it was solvent, according to the latest data from the U.S. Department of Labor. The Show-Me State’s December unemployment rate was 4 percent, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Former Gov. Jay Nixon in 2015 vetoed Fitzpatrick’s House Bill 150 that would have had the same effect. While the veto was overridden that year by legislators, the Missouri Supreme Court in 2016 ruled in favor of Nixon, saying the override was unconstitutional because of its timing. It was overridden in the 2015 veto session instead of the regular session.

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