LANSING, Mich. (AP) — The Republican-led Michigan Senate on Thursday approved several bills aimed at shoring up Michigan's unemployment benefits fund, although Democrats said one of the measures could make it harder for the jobless to get and keep their benefits.
A bill approved 23-11 along party lines would require some employers to pay unemployment taxes on a larger portion of their employees' wages. Other changes, however, would save money for employers paying into the state's unemployment insurance program.
Republican Sen. Jack Brandenburg of Macomb County's Harrison Township said the measure is part of a package aimed at creating a debt-free, more efficient system that "will encourage growth and remove hurdles for employers." Supporters say the bill will deter fraud, prevent overpayments and encourage the unemployed to seek jobs before their benefits run out.
Democrats are opposed to the measure and used a procedural move to delay the vote for more than four hours, requiring Senate clerks to formally read the roughly 200-page bill.
Democrats say the broad measure would lead to reduced eligibility for benefits for some unemployed workers. After a period of time, for example, available work could no longer be considered "unsuitable" if it was outside the unemployed worker's previous experience or training, or if it paid lower wages.
Other bills approved Thursday would allow the state to issue bonds to help pay off loans from the federal government used to prop up the state's unemployment trust fund. Those bills passed with bipartisan support.
Unemployment benefits are a particularly touchy subject in Michigan, where the jobless rate — 10.6 percent in October — is one of the nation's highest.
Earlier this year, Republicans approved a new law that will cut the length of time that jobless workers can get state benefits from the current 26 weeks to 20 weeks starting with new filers in 2012. The measure was part of a bill allowing tens of thousands of Michigan workers to continue receiving extended federal jobless benefits that would have expired otherwise.
Republicans say reducing the length of state benefits will save businesses money on unemployment insurance.
The bills approved Thursday include Senate Bills 806, 483 and 484.