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Senate delays vote on unemployment insurance rate hike

OLYMPIA – Senate Democrats had to delay a vote Wednesday on a plan to spare businesses from millions in higher unemployment insurance taxes after Republicans said the plan didn’t help workers who are running out of benefits.

The two parties engaged in a bit of political maneuvering as the Legislature tried to beat the clock on changes to unemployment insurance. In the end, a vote on some plan to revise unemployment rates was put off for at least a day.

Gov. Chris Gregoire wants the Legislature to cancel a statutorily required increase in unemployment insurance rates, which will take effect if the law isn’t changed by Feb. 8. The House recently passed a bill that does that and uses money being offered by the federal government to add $15 per week per dependent for jobless workers with families.

Gregoire wants the new federal money to be used to expand training programs for unemployed workers, to move them into jobs that have a better chance of keeping them employed in the coming years. But some social action groups and organized labor back the boost in payments for benefits.

Wednesday morning, Senate Democrats tried to split the bill with an amendment that canceled the rate hike but took out the benefits provisions, to be handled later in the session. That meant a portion of the benefits section which extended unemployment insurance also was removed.

Before they could debate the amendment, however, Sen. Mark Schoesler, R-Ritzville, used a parliamentary maneuver to try to block it. “Without this change in law, 70,000 workers will exhaust their unemployment benefits,” he said.

Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, objected, saying there’s time to extend the unemployment benefits but the rate hike needs to be stopped sooner: “The clock is ticking for thousands of businesses in Washington state. … We should not be playing politics with cutting unemployment insurance rates to business.”

Schoesler’s proposal to block the amendment passed, and after some more parliamentary maneuvering, the Senate adjourned until today.

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