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Iowa House Republicans advance bill cutting the max time for unemployment benefits by 10 weeks

dozens of people gather at the iowa capitol for a subcommittee hearing about unemployment benefits
Katarina Sostaric
House Republicans advanced a bill to change unemployment benefits at a subcommittee meeting Tuesday.

The maximum amount of time most Iowans can receive unemployment benefits would be cut from 26 weeks to 16 weeks under a bill advanced Tuesday by House Republicans. The bill would also require claimants to wait a week to start receiving benefits, and to accept a lower-paying job offer more quickly.

“There’s a variety of things in this bill that hurt the Iowa worker,” said Jeff Shudak, a union plumber and president of the Western Iowa Labor Federation.

He said he heard about the bill while he was eating lunch, put down his sandwich, and drove from Council Bluffs to Des Moines to testify at the subcommittee hearing.

“If a tradesman or tradeswoman works even a day in a week—say we get laid off on a Tuesday…you sit at home Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, then you wait for your week,” Shudak said of the proposed one-week waiting period.

Mike Gronstal, lobbyist for Iowa State Building and Construction Trades, said the vast majority of building trade workers are laid off once a year.

“This bill reaches into the pockets of tens of thousands of Iowans—tens of thousands of them—and takes 300 or 400 bucks out of their pockets,” Gronstal said. “That’s what this bill does. That’s a pretty serious attack on our industry.”

The Iowa Association of Business and Industry supports the bill.

“We have to make sure we understand that the unemployment benefits are something that takes a person from work, to work,” said JD Davis of ABI. “That is how they’re designed to make sure that it is bridge income to get somebody back to work, and we think that getting people back to work sooner that are in the workforce already is a goal worth pursuing.”

Davis said the one-week waiting period would bring Iowa in line with almost all other states in the Upper Midwest.

The bill would also cut the maximum duration of unemployment benefits for Iowans laid off because their employer went out of business, from 39 to 26 weeks.

Current law says if someone is offered a job paying at least 65 percent of their previous wages after the eighteenth week of unemployment benefits, they have to take the job or lose their benefits.

The bill would require Iowans to take a job paying at least 60 percent of their previous wages if the job is offered after the eighth week of unemployment.

Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds called for these changes in her Condition of the State address last month.

“There are many reasons for the worker shortage, but we need to recognize that, in some cases, it’s because the government has taken away the need or desire to work,” Reynolds said during the speech. “The safety net has become a hammock.”

Reynolds’ full workforce bill had not been released to the public as of Tuesday afternoon, but her lobbyist said the language in the House bill matches the governor’s proposal.

Felicia Hilton, lobbyist for the North Central States Regional Council of Carpenters, said the bill insinuates that Iowans who were considered essential workers throughout the pandemic are lazy.

“In no way is this a hammock that people are laying back in, barely getting any of the money that they were making on a weekly basis, because that’s how severe the cut would be if you’re working overtime,” she said.

Hilton said unemployment is an earned benefit, and that getting laid off is devastating.

The bill would also change the definition of misconduct that disqualifies someone from receiving unemployment benefits, which union representatives said would do away with decades of case law establishing those parameters.

Limits on medical malpractice, trucking accident lawsuits

A separate section of the bill would put an additional cap on how much money a patient can get in a lawsuit against a health care provider.

Current law says the maximum noneconomic damages a patent can get is $250,000, unless a jury determines there is substantial or permanent loss or impairment of a bodily function, substantial disfigurement, or death. The bill that advanced Tuesday would put a $1 million hard cap on all damages.

Several health care providers spoke in support of the change.

Lobbyists for the Iowa Motor Truck Association were also at the meeting to express support for liability limits related to trucking accidents.

The bill is scheduled to be considered by the full House Labor Committee on Wednesday. Committee Chair Rep. Dave Deyoe, R-Nevada, said the bill will likely be amended, but did not describe specific changes.

Katarina Sostaric is IPR's State Government Reporter