Monday, July 5, 2010

Unemployment compensation under new microscope

Bluffton Today

Last Tuesday was the final, final day of session. The day was mostly about vetoes, but also the beginning of ascertaining the impact of what happened and what didn’t happen this session.

Some folks like to measure our productivity by the number of bills passed from January to June. I am not one of those folks. In fact, I hope to prefile legislation that will amend our process so that each potential law we consider does not have to be contained in two bills. This is part of my ongoing “red tape reduction” campaign.

One of the things demonstrated by our many furloughs this session is that we can get just as much work done in many fewer days if we are focused and disciplined. Any suggestions in this area would be greatly appreciated.

One of our legitimate accomplishments is the reform of the Employment Security Commission. This was a troubled agency for years but managed to drag itself along pretty much on inertia and ageneral disinclination toward change among many members of the General Assembly. We all heard the reports of problems with under and overpayment of unemployment compensation as well as failure to apply for federal dollars to supplement and extend the benefits to our unemployed workers. There were also alarming stories of people abusing the system by intentionally getting fired for misbehavior and still collecting unemployment benefits.

In this case it was deemed more desirable to abolish the agency and reconstitute its functions in a new format. The solution was H.3442, which I strongly supported. The new creation, signed into law 30 March 2010, is the Department of Workforce, a cabinet level agency with an array of employment related responsibilities. Among other things, this department assumes the role of administering the unemployment compensation program, as well as arbitrating certain kinds of disputes that arise under this regime. The legislation also creates the Work Force Initiative of the Economic Development and Research Committee to review and make recommendations regarding steps that should be taken to improve the economy of the state, the employment of South Carolinians and restores a greater amount of financial security to the citizens of the state.

The legislation also goes into some detail as to what sorts of misconduct leading to termination that might also make one ineligible for unemployment benefits.

Misconduct includes such activities as assault or battery on a fellow employee or customer, abuse of a patient or child under professional care, willful and reckless damage to employee property in excess of $50, theft of items valued in excess of $50, failure to comply with applicable state and federal drug and alcohol testing, the consumption of alcohol or being drunk on the job in violation of written work place policy and regulations, insubordination, or willful neglect of duty.

It should be clear that we must give each worker in our state some level of job security, but also be equally adamant that those seeking to abuse the system will not be rewarded for bad behavior. For me, it was pretty much a matter of common sense, but even common sense needs to be articulated in unambiguous language if we are to avoid endless and frivolous litigation.

Next week, more on ESC reform as well as campaign disclosure legislation signed by the governor.