Raleigh, N.C. — The Senate voted 36-12 Wednesday to give final legislative approval to a bill that remakes North Carolina's unemployment insurance system. The bill now goes to Gov. Pat McCrory.
It has been the subject of fierce debate over the past three weeks. Opponents of the bill says it takes more from unemployed workers than it asks of businesses.
"It is not a bill of shared sacrifice," said Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake.
North Carolina built up $2.5 billion in debt to the federal government during the recession paying unemployment claims. The bill seeks to repay that money quickly to avoid a series of federally mandated tax increases on businesses. To do that, it raises state unemployment taxes a small amount.
It also cuts benefits for unemployed workers, limiting both the duration of benefits and capping weekly benefits at $350. The measure also forces unemployed workers to take lower-paying jobs when they become available rather than waiting to higher-paying jobs that might better match their experience.
"We heard a lot of talk yesterday that we did not care about people," said Sen. Tom Apodaca, R-Henderson, defending the measure. "I think we're all very concerned. We all believe the best thing we can do for someone (who is) unemployed is to find them suitable employments."
Republicans argue that, by limiting tax increases, the state will attract more businesses and create more jobs. Stein and other Democrats argued that, even if that recovery comes, people will be hurt in the meantime.
"If you put too much burden on people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own ... you create real hardships for those families," Stein said.
The measure now goes to McCrory, a Republican who has been supportive of the measure.
Four Senate Democrats crossed party lines to support the GOP-crafted measure: Ben Clark, D-Cumberland; Clark Jenkins, D-Edgecombe; Gene McLaurin, D-Richmond; and Michael Walters, D-Robeson.