After a filibuster which dragged on for several weeks, the Missouri Senate passed a measure extending unemployment benefits to Missourians who have been out of work for an extended period of time. The newly passed legislation was signed by Governor Nixon and will become law.
The filibuster was conducted by four senators wanting to send a message to the federal government to quit spending money it does not have. During the lengthy debate, it was also mentioned 79 weeks was enough time for someone to find a job, even if not in their chosen field. In Missouri, employers pay for the first 26 weeks of unemployment through taxes paid to the Missouri Department of Labor. Additional weeks may be applied for which are paid for through the federal government. Without the new law, 79 weeks was the maximum amount of time Missourians could draw unemployment. If the federal funds were accepted, a person could collect unemployment for 99 weeks.
Proponents of extending the benefits argued the money would go to other states if not spent in Missouri. Their stance was if it was not going to applied to the national debt, it may as well go to Missourians who would then spend it for items such as groceries and rent. The four senators remained resolute and the bill remained in limbo.
A two pronged compromise was reached this week after which the four senators agreed to stand down and allow a vote on the bill. First, a provision was added which reduced the number of weeks for which Missouri employers would be liable from 26 to 20. Extensions could still be applied for after the end of 20 weeks. There was some question as to whether the House would go along with this change since they were not part of the discussions.
The second part of the compromise is quite a bit tricker, as not all senators have signed off on the agreement. Some members of Senate leadership have agreed to work with the four senators in an effort to identify and eliminate spending of federal stimulus money in other areas of the budget.
Only four weeks remain in this year's legislative session. The budget must be completed one week prior to adjournment and appears to be on track. The Senate Appropriations Committee has finished its work and the full Senate will begin debating the budget bills next week. Any differences between versions passed by the House and Senate will be reconciled in Conference Committees before heading to the governor's desk.
Unlike the federal government, Missouri's Constitution requires us to have a balanced budget. How I wish we had a balanced budget amendment in the U.S. Constitution!