Raleigh, N.C. — The House passed a package of changes to the state's unemployment insurance laws Thursday after rejecting a change that would have softened requirements for those receiving weekly payments.
Senate Bill 15 will now return to the Senate after an 83-27 vote with one of its most controversial features intact.
As it is currently drafted, the bill would raise the number of times an unemployed worker would have to contact a potential employers from two per week to five per week in order to keep receiving benefits.
"We're going to have a problem 'round about December if we don't change it to three," said Rep. Jonathan Jordan, R-Ashe, as he offered an amendment Thursday.
Employers, he said, would be flooded with applications from people who were unqualified or otherwise unable to take their positions but needed to meet their weekly quota.
Jordan argued that those receiving unemployment were free to decide to make more "job contacts," but raising the number to five was out of line with 44 other states, which all require three. He also said that prior changes that reduced the number of weeks that someone can receive unemployment help and reduced the value of those payments would do more to push people toward work than raising the job contact quota.
Others argued the five-contact requirement was punitive, which drew a sharp response from backers of the bill.
"I don't think (the subject of) this amendment has anything to do with punishing anybody," Rep. Charles Jeter, R-Mecklenburg, said. "I think it has to do with trying to encourage them."
Other members of the House argued that changing the bill at this point would endanger it because top senators had already signed off on the measure as is.
Lawmakers hope their session is coming to a close and often find themselves unwilling to renegotiate what they believed to be settled issues.
"The idea (that) the Senate will reject it because a little tiny part of it was changed slightly defies the imagination," Rep. Paul "Skip" Stam, R-Wake, said.
However, only 11 Republicans and 38 Democrats out of the 120-member chamber voted to scale back the job contact figure. Senators are expected to take a final vote next week on whether to send the measure to the governor.