Senate bills target jobless benefits rules

Should municipalities and nonprofits be required to reimburse the New Hampshire Department of Employment Security after a longtime employee quits and gets a job somewhere else, only to be shortly laid off?That’s the question raised by Senate Bill 257, and by Harry S. Vogel, executive director of the Loon Preservation Committee, based in Moultonborough.As a nonprofit that recently broke away from the Audubon Society of New Hampshire, the Loon Committee had a choice to pay unemployment security taxes like a private business, which are assessed based partly on previous experience, or to reimburse the state for the cost.Although the Loon Committee hasn’t laid off anybody in years, Audubon has, so the Loon Committee- like most nonprofits — chose the reimbursement option. But, to Vogel’s surprise, Employment Security said the committee was liable for 44 percent of unemployment benefits of a former employee that hadn’t been laid off by the committee, he said.Under SB 257, all of an employee’s time would be charged to the employer that laid him or her off.”It would shift the burden,” said state Labor Commissioner Tara Reardon, who did not take a position on the bill.Sen. Ray White, R-Bedford, however, had problems with the idea. The recent recession drained the unemployment fund, increasing taxes on business. “My bill went up 400 percent, and I never laid anyone off,” he said, addressing Vogel. “It seems to me you got the benefit of a free ride, and when something adverse happens you want to change the law.”In a related measure, Sen. Sylvia Larsen, D-Concord, said she intends to amend her bill that would give unemployed workers more time on the Return to Work program so it can be sent to a study committee. The program, instituted last year, allows recipients to work in a training capacity at a business for six weeks while still collecting benefits, with the hope that they can be hired. SB 377 would have doubled the period from six to 12 weeks.Larsen said she thought employers might need more time to train workers, but Commissioner Reardon said that the program was working just fine as it is, with some 65 percent of trainees ended up being hired.She said that if workers were subsidized by unemployment benefits any longer, employers might use them as free labor rather than as potential workers.A study committee would try to find out what the state could do to tell more businesses about the problem, Larsen said.In other commerce committee business, those selling insurance for cell phones or iPads would be doing so under a limited insurance license by the retailer, if SB 350 makes it thought the legislative process. But that might not be easy, since the state Insurance Department wants to put the idea on hold.The bill is championed by Jim Hatem, a lobbyist representing Asurion LLC, a Florida-based company that says on its website that it has more than 5,000 employees and policies with some 95 million consumers.Currently, most retailers have no licenses. Instead they are classified as “enrollers,” said Hatem, “so it’s notperfectly clear if something goes wrong.”This bill makes it clear that it is the retailer who is the insurer, though Asurion or some rival company would provide various services, such as making sure consumers don’t go without a cell phone while the old one is fixed or replaced.The bill calls for training and disclosure, primarily by handing consumers a brochure. The Insurance Department however said it wants to her from the National Associationof Insurance Commissioners to draw up model legislation, which it expected in about a year.Hatem said it would take much longer and urged the committee to act.White said he’s a bit suspicious whenever a large company comes in asking for regulations, arguing that it could be a sign that it wanted to make it harder for competition to enter the market. — BOB SANDERS/NEW HAMPSHIRE BUSINESS REVIEW

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