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Wednesday, March 14, 2012 - 11:12am

Jobless Benefits Bill Stalled

Georgia’s labor commissioner wants lawmakers to okay jobless benefit changes. The plan would help re-pay $700 million the state borrowed to cover unemployment reserves. But the measure appears stalled in the House.

Georgia began borrowing money from the federal government in 2009 to cover a shortfall in the fund that pays out jobless benefits.

Labor commissioner Mark Butler says Georgia companies are now paying more into federal tax coffers because of the debt.

And soon he says they may have to pay more to the state to replenish the reserve fund, which continues to run low.

He backs a bill that passed the Senate, which would pay off the loan by cutting benefits to the unemployed.

But he says it may not be constitutional because the House normally writes fiscal bills.

“I would like to be on the safe side and let it be a House bill," he said, after attending hearings at the state Capitol Wednesday. "There’s no sense of us getting in a position where it could be challenged. But obviously it’s going to be the will of the General Assembly and what they decide to do.”

Stacey Abrams, the House minority leader, agrees. She cited a letter by the General Assembly's legislative counsel.

The Atlanta Democrat also says jobless workers shouldn’t pay for the state’s mistakes. She says the state squandered the unemployment reserves by going easy on businesses.

“We’ve allowed employers to not pay into the trust fund and when unemployment hit, we borrowed against the money that we needed in the trust fund and now that we’re almost $750 million in debt and the feds are calling the bill, we are now asking the unemployed to pay the tab,” she said in an interview.

A spokesman for House Speaker David Ralston says the bill isn't on the back burner. He also says seven days remain in the legislative session – enough time to vote on the bill.