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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spin Control

Wa Lege Day 25: House has new plan on unemployment insurance

OLYMPIA -- House Democrats will not vote on the plan to block the unemployment insurance tax rate hike that passed the Senate Friday morning with a large bipartisan margin.

Instead, they will likely vote Monday on a different plan, House Speaker Frank Chopp said Friday afternoon.

The House version will keep most businesses from receiving an increase in their unemployment insurance tax rates this year. It will also allow workers who've been off the job for a long time to receive extended benefits from federal money approved by Congress late last year.

That's essentially where Friday's Senate version stops; it left until sometime later a decision on whether to use $98 million in available federal  money expand certain worker training programs or to raise benefits for unemployed workers. The House version does both.

That had been described as an either-or option, but Chopp said House research indicates that the state could be eligible for the $98 million if it makes some changes to existing training programs and eliminates some funding caps and limitations on workers getting the training. That would then free up the $98 million to be used for a temporary across-the-board bump in benefits of between $10 and $20 per week. (Final amount still under discussion.)

The Senate and Gov. Chris Gregoire support leaving the debate over training and higher benefits for later with a separate bill. "We're saying let's do this one thing that's comprehensive," Chopp said.

That proposal is expected to go to the House floor on Monday, and Chopp believes it will get bipartisan support there. But that means it would go to the Senate no sooner than Tuesday, which has been described as the deadline for getting the scheduled unemployment insurance rates changed.

If the bipartisan support that was on display in the Senate Friday were to disappear and stall the bill, Chopp suggested there might be more time. Tuesday is an administrative deadline, not one set in statute; it's designed to get word of the rate change to businesses, who don't pay their first quarter unemployment taxes until April.

Jim Camden
Jim Camden joined The Spokesman-Review in 1981 and retired in 2021. He is currently the political and state government correspondent covering Washington state.

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