Gov. Nixon vetoes limited jobless benefits

Wednesday, June 18, 2014 | 7:43 a.m. CDT; updated 11:27 a.m. CDT, Wednesday, June 18, 2014

JEFFERSON CITY — Gov. Jay Nixon vetoed legislation Tuesday that could have narrowed the duration of Missouri's jobless benefits to one of the shortest in the nation.

The Democratic governor said the bill passed by the Republican-led legislature "would have made it harder for unemployed workers to get back on their feet and undermined Missouri's economic growth."

The Republican sponsor of the bill said he wants to consider a veto override attempt, which would require a two-thirds vote of both chambers during a September session. So far this year, Nixon has vetoed 12 bills, one of which already has been overridden.

Missouri residents currently can collect unemployment benefits for up to 20 weeks, which already is less than the national norm of 26 weeks.

The legislation would have linked the duration of benefits to the state's unemployment rate, allowing a full 20 weeks of aid only when the state's average unemployment rate was at least 9 percent during the third quarter of the previous year.

The maximum length of benefits would have decreased one week for each one-half percentage point drop in the unemployment rate, bottoming out at 13 weeks of benefits when the jobless rate was less than 6 percent.

That would have made Missouri's minimum duration of benefits shorter than in every state except Florida and North Carolina, which both set 12 week minimums using sliding scales based on unemployment rates.

"I want to see Missourians go to work and not need unemployment," said sponsoring Sen. Mike Kehoe, R-Jefferson City. "Unemployment should be a safety net for the worst of the worst times, not something you can rely on at the drop of a hat."

Business groups had promoted the Missouri legislation as a way to revamp an unemployment system that had to borrow over $1 billion from the federal government to pay benefits following the recent recession.

"This was common-sense reform," said Tracy King, vice president of governmental affairs for the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

In addition to limiting benefits, the legislation would have raised the cap on how much money could be kept in Missouri's unemployment trust fund, and it would have required a state board to consider issuing bonds to fortify the fund whenever its debt to the federal government exceeded $300 million.

Nixon said the legislation was unnecessary, because Missouri recently paid off its unemployment fund debt that had been lingering since the recession.

The governor also said the legislation was unfair, because jobless residents from counties with high unemployment rates still would have had their duration of benefits reduced if the statewide unemployment rate was low.

"Now that we've returned our unemployment trust fund to solvency, there is simply no need to inflict additional hardships on those Missourians who have not yet found work," Nixon said in a written statement.

Kehoe expressed frustration that Nixon had not shared his concerns with lawmakers during the session, so that the bill could have been amended.

The bill passed the Senate by a 24-8 vote, which would meet the threshold for a veto override. It passed the House by a 101-49 vote with nine members absent. That was eight votes short of the two-thirds mark needed for an override.

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