The legislation passed by a large margin, but not before a back-and-forth debate that centered on helping individuals who have lost their jobs.
State Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir City, authored House Bill 3431 — the Unemployment Insurance Accountability Act of 2012 — after a series of meetings with Tennessee businessmen and job creators. Matlock was asked to chair the House Republican Small Business and Economic Development Task Force by Majority Leader Gerald McCormick, R-Chattanooga, last summer. The task force held a series of hearings with members of the small business community, entrepreneurs and other individuals involved with private economic development. Each came back with serious proposals to jump-start Tennessee’s economy, but the main complaint focused on government and the lack of accountability in the unemployment insurance program.
Matlock cited these concerns during the House debate.
“We are for helping everyone with legitimate needs and building them up into the economy,” he said. “Our intent, with this legislation, is to motivate and help those citizens who need the support.”
The East Tennessee Republican also discussed the work of the small business task force that helped him craft this legislation. He remarked, “We spent a lot of time figuring out the best way to reform the process and ensure those who have legitimate needs can get that help without taking advantage of taxpayer dollars.”
Matlock’s efforts were bolstered by other members of the Republican Majority who urged passage of the legislation. State Rep. Sheila Butt, R-Columbia, stated, “This legislation instills more accountability in the system which is a priority for the job creators in this state. Additionally, it incentivizes those who are on unemployment to actively look for work. I believe it is our job to advocate for the taxpayers and make sure we are being good stewards of their resources.”
I believe the business-friendly unemployment accountability legislation that we passed last week is one more example of our pro-business, pro-jobs agenda. We join with Gov. Bill Haslam in stating that it’s not government’s role to create jobs, but rather, it’s government’s role to create the most job-friendly environment possible in the state of Tennessee.
The legislation makes the following revisions to the system:
1. Increases definition of misconduct to absenteeism;
2. Increases audits of those seeking unemployment benefits;
3. Heightens work search requirements for those utilizing unemployment benefits;
4. Prohibits claimants from obtaining benefits if the claimant is “incarcerated four or more days in any week for which unemployment benefits are being claimed,” and
5. Ensures claimants cannot receive both severance package and draw unemployment support at the same time.
State Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, made a compelling case for the bill as he closed the debate on it. He stated, “As a business owner, I know how unemployment insurance rates have skyrocketed for my business recently. It’s because there are problems within the system that we can start fixing here today. The passage of this bill will untie the hands of small businesses — our job creators.”
He concluded, “If you care about jobs in your district, you will vote for this bill.”
The legislation passed the House 76-17.
(Editor’s Note: State Rep. Kevin Brooks, R-Cleveland, represents the 24th Legislative District. He and his wife, Kim, are actively involved in the Cleveland and Bradley County community, and local schools with their two children — Zach, who is attending Lee University, and Elizabeth who attends Cleveland High School.)