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March 3, 2009 (512) 463-0300

SENATORS ASK FOR UNEMPLOYMENT MONEY FROM STIMULUS

Sen. Watson (center), Sen. Shapleigh (left), Sen. Ellis (right)
Senator Kirk Watson of Austin argues the importance of federal stimulus money for the state's unemployment insurance system.

(AUSTIN) — A group of Senators came together Tuesday to ask Governor Rick Perry to accept more than $550 million in more money from the Federal stimulus package for unemployment insurance in Texas. Some lawmakers have balked at this idea, saying it would require the state to reform its unemployment policies. The Senators gathered Tuesday said increasing unemployment in the state means more money for out-of-work Texans is critical. "I've heard the concerns that the unemployment funding in the Federal stimulus package comes with strings attached. Quite frankly, I don't care," said Houston Senator Rodney Ellis. "To a Texan who has lost a job and worries how they are going to pay their bills, the aid isnít a string; itís a lifeline."

Under the Federal stimulus bill, in order to receive money for unemployment insurance, states must adopt through statute. Federal standards for benefits. For Texas, this would mean a number of changes. First, the state would have to adopt the alternative base period, where benefits are based on the claimant's income based on the previous four quarters employment. Next, the state would have to adopt two of the following reforms: extend benefits to part-time workers, extend benefits for workforce training, or benefits for workers who leave employment to follow a spouse who is relocated.

Sen. Carona (center), Sen. Huffman (left)
Dallas Senator John Carona describes his bill which would enhance penalties for gang related crimes in areas frequented by children.

This money could be timely, as funds continue to drain out of the state's unemployment benefit trust fund. Unemployment in Texas has increased by 111,000 lost jobs last year, and 8 percent of Texans could be out of work by the end of 2009. Senator Kirk Watson of Austin recounted testimony of gubernatorial appointee Thomas Pauken before the Senate Nominations Committee last week. Pauken, Perry's pick to head the Texas Workforce Commission, said the unemployment fund could be out of money by the end of October, and to replenish it, the state would have to borrow money or raise taxes on employers. "Pass the needed reforms in the law," said Watson, "and accept this money, at a time when anyone who is really paying attention to the people on this [issue] will tell you, we're in dire circumstances."

Also Tuesday, Senator John Carona of Dallas announced the filing of a bill intended to enhance penalties for gang-related crime. SB 1256 would create "No-Gang Zones" in places frequented by children, such as schools, playgrounds and youth centers. Similar to "Drug-Free Zones" already in law, gang-related crimes in these areas would carry harsher penalties than if committed elsewhere. Carona said tougher laws are needed to deal with escalating domestic and trans-national gang crime in Texas. "Zero tolerance perception is really the key," he said. "Gang members intending to commit criminal acts will become keenly aware of the stiffer penalties they face if they choose to commit crimes in these zoned areas." SB 1256 is one of 16 bills Carona will file this session to address gang-related crimes in Texas.

The Senate will reconvene Wednesday, March 4 at 11 a.m.

Session video and all other webcast recordings can be accessed from the Senate website's audio and video archive pages.

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