By Peter Marcus, DENVER DAILY NEWS
A bill that would allow employees whose hours are reduced to claim some unemployment benefits was given initial approval yesterday by the House.
Senate Bill 28, sponsored in the House by Rep. Sal Pace, D-Pueblo, was given an initial voice vote in the House yesterday. The so-called work share program would allow employers to reduce the hours of a group of employees instead of laying off the workers, allowing the workers to apply for some unemployment compensation.
“In a time when we need to watch every penny while still trying to protect jobs, this program is a win-win situation,” said Pace. “It saves jobs and helps small businesses keep their workers.”
Critics, however, say the state’s workers compensation insurance fund is nearly bankrupt. They don’t want to encourage more people to claim benefits.
“Encouraging employers to be able to put more people on the unemployment role is only going to degrade the solvency of the fund even more at a time when we can least afford to do that,” said Sen. Ted Harvey, R-Highlands Ranch, who voted against the measure when it was debated in the Senate Business, Labor and Technology Committee.
Harvey said lawmakers should be working on legislation that keeps people working, not “destroys the economy.” He is critical of Democrats this year for eliminating tax breaks and incentives enjoyed by business, as well as tough rules on the oil and gas industry.
“We need to do everything we can to incentivize them É not encourage employees to put more people on the workers’ compensation role,” said Harvey.
But supporters say Pace’s measure would save about $2 million each year from the unemployment insurance trust fund because giving benefits to underemployed workers is cheaper than giving benefits to unemployed workers.
Over the past two years, 17 states with similar legislation saved almost a quarter of a million jobs, according to supporters.
SB 28 is expected to face a final vote in the next few days.