Mass. Senate Approves Unemployment Insurance Bill

The Massachusetts Senate has approved a bill that would make changes in the state's unemployment insurance system that supporters say will lower costs for businesses.

The measure, which passed on a 33-4 vote Thursday, continues a freeze on unemployment insurance rates through 2017, introduces an updated rating table and expands the employer exemption given to seasonal businesses from 16 to 20 weeks.

Senate President Therese Murray said the bill will provide financial predictability, reward positive employment histories with lower costs and foster a healthy economy.

"These reforms strike a careful balance between providing businesses with a helping hand without taking that same hand away from the unemployed," said Murray, D-Plymouth.

But Mass High Tech Council President Chris Anderson said the Senate missed an "opportunity to enact meaningful reforms."

"Massachusetts will remain at a significant cost disadvantage relative to other states that are aggressively seeking to build high-tech economies like ours," he said.

Business groups have suggested lowering the duration of unemployment benefits from 30 weeks to 26 weeks and requiring workers to be employed for at least 20 weeks, up from the current 15 weeks, before being eligible for benefits.

Under the bill, people will be allowed to collect benefits if they quit their second jobs before they're laid off from their primary jobs. Business owners will be allowed to collect unemployment benefits if they leave their companies but will be required to pay back any money collected if they return to the same companies within the same benefit year.

The legislation also adds whistleblower protections for employees who testify about their employers' defrauding the system and bans crewmembers on commercial fishing vessels from being denied unemployment benefits if unemployment is the result of federal fisheries management restrictions.

The bill now heads to the House.


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