Bill Spelling Out Reasons To Deny Unemployment Advances In The House

Apr 2, 2019

Updated Friday, April 5, 2019:

This bill was advanced by the House Commerce Committe, which means it survived the funnel deadline and could come up for debate on the House floor.

Original post from Tuesday, April 2, 2019:

An Iowa Senate bill that specifies cases where workers should be denied unemployment benefits is now advancing in the House, although opponents question whether the changes are necessary.

Currently the Iowa Department of Workforce Development (IWD) decides whether to disqualify a worker from unemployment based on rules it has developed. The bill (SF 561) would codify those rules but also spells out additional forms of misconduct that would disqualify someone from receiving benefits including drinking on the job, stealing or dishonesty.

Nicole Crain of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry testifies before a House subcommittee.
Credit John Pemble / IPR

“As we know administrative rules can change,” said Nicole Crain of the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, which did not take an official position on the proposal. “We do think that anytime you can put something in code it just makes it clearer for everyone.”

The bill outlines 16 specific examples of misconduct, but it also states that benefits could be denied for other reasons. Rep. Bruce Hunter, D-Des Moines, said that’s both too specific and too broad.

“It’s kind of a double-edged sword,” Hunter said. “It restricts the definitions and with the addition of ‘not limited to’ it opens misconduct to pretty much anything under the sun.”

Several labor union representatives testified in opposition to the bill because they said some of the new rules, such as "attempting to create dissention," are too vague and could be used by companies against former employees. 

“Generally, the current system works,” said Mike Gronstal, lobbying for the Iowa State Building and Construction Trades Council. “lt’s predictable. There are more than 80 years of case law to back that up and we trust the department to do that job.”

The bill was advanced in subcommittee and now goes before the House Commerce Committee. In order to be debated this year it must be advanced to the House floor by the end of the week.