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Brief History of Tennessee General Assembly ‘Extraordinary Sessions’

Press release from Tennessee Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin; January 31, 2015:

On Monday we will be gaveled into Extraordinary Session at the call of the Governor to consider his Insure Tennessee plan.  This will be the 58th Extraordinary Session in the State’s history.  See below for a brief history of special sessions in Tennessee.  I hope you find it interesting!
– Jack

A Brief History of Tennessee Extraordinary Sessions
Written by General Assembly Librarian Eddie Weeks

On February 2, 2015, the 109th General Assembly will convene in Extraordinary Session.

This will be the 58th Extraordinary Session in the history of the State.  The most recent Extraordinary Session was held in January 2010.

Of the 57 Extraordinary Sessions in the state’s history, five were called by Gov. John Sevier, the State’s first Governor, and 31 were called before the year 1900.

Of these 57 Extraordinary Sessions, 55 were called by the Governor as provided in Article III, Section 9, of the Constitution of the State of Tennessee, while two were called by the Legislature as provided in Article II, Section 8 (1971 and 1982).

In 1913, Gov. Ben Hooper issued a call for an Extraordinary Session of the 58th General Assembly, beginning September 18.  He listed 61 subjects, plus 148 items of local legislation, to be considered by the legislature.  The General Assembly adjourned sine die from Extraordinary Session on September 27, 1913; Gov. Hooper then issued a proclamation on September 30, 1913, calling for a Second Extraordinary Session to begin October 13.

In 1935, Gov. Hill McAlister issued a call for an Extraordinary Session of the 69th General Assembly.  He listed 64 subjects, plus 172 items of local legislation, to be considered by the legislature.  He then issued a supplemental call with an additional 68 items to be considered, and then issued a second supplemental call with an additional 9 items to be considered.

The 70th General Assembly is the only General Assembly to have met in three Extraordinary Sessions, and is the only General Assembly to have been called into Extraordinary Session by two different Governors:  Gov. Hill McAlister in December 1936 (after the members’ election in November 1936) and Gov. Gordon Browning in October and November 1937.

The Extraordinary Sessions of 1971, 1982, and 1996 each lasted only one day; the Second Extraordinary Session of 1890, the Extraordinary Session of 1936, and the Extraordinary Session of 1944 each lasted four calendar days.

The Second Extraordinary Session of 1866 lasted from November 5, 1866 until March 11, 1867.

Perhaps the most famous Extraordinary Session in the State’s history was in 1920.  On August 7, 1920, Gov. A. H. Roberts issued a call for an Extraordinary Session of the 61st General Assembly to convene August 9.  He listed 142 subjects to be considered (plus an additional 20 in a supplemental call), but all that most people remember is the first item:  “To take action upon the amendment to the Constitution of the United States… giving women the full right of suffrage, being the proposed Nineteenth Amendment to the Federal Constitution.”

On Friday, August 13, Senate Joint Resolution 1, “Relative to ratifying proposed Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution,” was adopted by the Senate, 25 Ayes, 4 Noes, 2 PNV.

On Wednesday, August 18, Speaker of the House Seth Walker moved that SJR 1 be tabled; the motion failed 48 – 48.

SJR 1 was then concurred in by a vote of 50 Ayes, 46 Noes, and women throughout the United States gained the right to vote.

House Will Get First Crack at Haslam’s Medicaid Expansion Plan

It looks as if the Tennessee House of Representatives will take the lead on deliberations over Gov. Bill Haslam’s proposal to expand state Medicaid eligibility using federal Obamacare dollars.

The General Assembly is scheduled to go into an “extraordinary session” beginning Feb. 2 to approve or reject the Haslam administration’s “Insure Tennessee” plan, the centerpiece of which is a system of Affordable Care Act-financed vouchers for lower income residents to purchase private-sector health insurance.

The “vehicle” in the Legislature for discussing Insure Tennessee will likely be a “joint resolution” originating in the House that’ll be carried by the chamber’s GOP majority leader, Gerald McCormick of Chattanooga.

Before it gets to the full floor of the 99-member chamber, though, the joint resolution will have to win approval from several committees and subcommittees, among them the House Insurance and Banking Committee, the Health Committee, the Finance Committee and the Calendar and Rules Committee, a spokeswoman for Speaker Beth Harwell, R-Nashville, told TNReport.

McCormick indicated this week that the vote-count within the House GOP caucus appears very tight at present. There are 73 Republicans and 26 Democrats in the House. Fifty votes are required to pass a measure out of the chamber.

Although the Senate will likely hold hearings and discussions about Insure Tennessee while the resolution is working its way through the House, upper-chamber Republican leaders said Senate committee-votes won’t be taken until after — and only if — the resolution clears the House.

“If it fails in the first House sub(committee), we’re done,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, who presides over the Senate, told majority-party lawmakers during a caucus meeting Thursday afternoon.

Both Ramsey and Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris estimate that as many as three-quarters of their caucus remains undecided on the Haslam plan. Among them are Jack Johnson of Franklin and Randy McNally of Oak Ridge, who chair powerful committees that will likely handle the resolution.

Republicans outnumber Democrats in the Senate by a tally of 28-5. It takes 17 votes to pass a measure in the Senate.

“We have members who are outspokenly opposed to the proposal,” Norris said at the Senate GOP caucus gathering. “There are other members here supportive of it. But most members are just in the middle with open minds.”

Norris, who has himself voiced reservations about Haslam’s plan, said he’s hopeful there’s a full and robust discussion about all facets of the proposal. He described Insure Tennessee as “very complicated” in the way it touches on numerous aspects of state and federal law, the Internal Revenue Code and previous developments in the history of TennCare, the state’s program for administering the federal Medicaid system.

“All those things interrelate,” said Norris, a lawyer from Collierville. “Regardless of which side of the issue you may find yourself on, all these issues could be very important, whether you are against it, whether you are for it or whether you are unsure which way to go.”

He added, “What we are trying to do is lay out a timely and orderly process to get everyone through it in the best way possible, so that you can truly say that you are representing your constituents.”

Norris said one of the goals is to avoid the accusation of passing legislation “and not knowing what is in it.”

“Nobody wants to be in that situation,” he said.

Insure Tennessee has been offered by the administration as a two-year pilot program, and it includes incentives for healthier lifestyles. It is designed to enable the state to draw down Medicaid expansion funding through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to cover people making up to 138 percent of the poverty level — which could translate to more than 450,000 potentially eligible Tennesseans.

Upcoming UAW Vote at VW Concerns TN Senate Labor, Commerce Cmte Heads

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; February 10, 2013:

NASHVILLE, Tenn, (February 10, 2014) — The Chairman and Vice-Chairman of Tennessee’s Senate Commerce and Labor Committee today expressed concern regarding the United Auto Workers (UAW) upcoming vote in Chattanooga, saying a vote for organized labor would harm Tennessee’s reputation as a business-friendly state and reverse the state’s recent progress in automobile-related job growth.

Chairman Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) and Vice-Chairman Mark Green (R-Clarksville) said the General Assembly has worked in concert with Governors Phil Bredesen and Bill Haslam for the past several years to move forward policies to support Tennessee’s competitive standing in growing and expanding new and better paying jobs in the state. The lawmakers said that pending decisions of VW employees are of statewide interest at a pivotal time when Tennessee stands currently as a national leader in job creation.

“We greatly value our auto workers, both in Middle Tennessee and in Southeast Tennessee,” said Senator Johnson, a businessman whose legislative district is home to the General Motors Spring Hill plant and Nissan’s North America headquarters.

“Our communities are very similar with great neighborhoods, schools that focus on achievement and a local economy that is envied by many. The automotive industry is a very important part of the quality of life we enjoy.” “As Chattanooga workers vote on the United Auto Workers presence, it is a decision that transcends just one community,” he added. “There is tremendous competition for job growth among states. A vote for organized labor would impede our daily efforts to benefit Tennessee families as we compete nationally in job growth. I ask that Chattanooga lead to honor Tennessee’s competitive spirit so we can continue moving our state’s job growth forward. Chattanooga workers, we don’t need the UAW in our state.”

“In business, reputation means a lot,” added Senator Green, who is a practicing physician and businessman who represents the more rural Clarksville region that competes with industry across the state-line of Kentucky. “Tennessee has developed a reputation of a top location for families and businesses because of the lower cost of living, commitment to an educated workforce and folks keeping more of our wages by holding taxes low.”

“Volkswagen chose our state and your community for important reasons: Chattanooga workers have a great reputation of a great work ethic and make an excellent product. That reputation has been yours without the United Auto Workers,” he continued. “The free market that VW chose in our state produces competition, empowers employees far more than a labor union, and keeps bringing jobs to Tennessee.” The United Auto Workers vote is scheduled for Wednesday, February 12 through Friday, February 14 at the Volkswagen site in Chattanooga.

Ramsey: Unemployment Reform Shows Results

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey; September 5, 2013:

(September 5, 2013, NASHVILLE) – Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) today announced that a rise in the state’s unemployment trust fund has triggered a considerable tax cut for employers across Tennessee.

Recent reforms championed by Lt. Governor Ramsey and sponsored by Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) have eliminated waste, fraud and abuse in the system resulting in substantial trust fund savings.

“As I’ve traveled across Tennessee working with job creators to make Tennessee the best place to own and operate a business, employers always told me the same thing: reform our unemployment system,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “The General Assembly answered that call by passing many cost-saving reforms over the past few years. Today, job creators start seeing the results of our actions in their bottom line through cuts in their unemployment taxes.”

Tennessee’s unemployment fund balance recently rose to over $800 million surpassing the benchmark of $650 million which triggers the elimination of the 0.6% surcharge instituted in 2009 and lowers the tax rate overall for all employers in the system.

“This is truly outstanding news,” said Senator Johnson. “It is fantastic to see our reforms provide a significant tax cut for job creators. Every dollar saved in reduced unemployment tax is a dollar that can be used to expand existing businesses and hire more workers. These reforms clearly benefit not only the job creator but the job seeker as well.”

The General Assembly passed two reforms in the last few years that played a direct role in increasing the trust fund.

The Unemployment Insurance Accountability Act of 2012 (Public Chapter 1050) strengthened the definition of employee misconduct to ensure that those who have been fired for cause no longer receive benefits. The act also enacted new work search requirements for unemployment beneficiaries and provided for random audits to ensure the integrity of beneficiaries’ job searches.

Public Chapter 427 (passed in 2013) updated the unemployment misconduct definition to include conduct constituting a criminal offense for which the claimant has been convicted or charged. Additionally, the chapter mandates departmental training of unemployment hearing officers as well as increasing weekly audits from 1,000 to 1,500.

Workers’ Comp Reform Receives Haslam Signature

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; May 7, 2013:

CLARKSVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today held a ceremonial bill signing at Clarksville Foundry, Inc. for his workers’ compensation reform legislation, HB 194/SB 200, approved by the General Assembly.

Workers’ compensation premium rates for employers in Tennessee are higher than the national average and higher than all of Tennessee’s bordering states, and the state is one of only two that adjudicated workers’ compensation claims in the trial courts, often delaying benefits to employees and producing inconsistent results.

The governor’s bill simplifies the system while allowing employees to receive benefits faster and return to work sooner, bringing increased predictability to the business environment.

“As I traveled the state during my first two years in office, I heard consistently from Tennesseans that reforming workers’ compensation would be a significant step toward improving our business climate and growing jobs,” Haslam said. “Our legislation brings clarity and fairness to the system and builds on our ongoing efforts to make Tennessee the No. 1 location in the Southeast for high quality jobs.”

The legislation

  • Provides disability benefits to an injured worker quicker;
  • Improves the quality of medical treatment;
  • Provides a clearer standard for causation and a neutral application of the law;
  • Allows employees to file claims in a court within the Division of Workers’ Compensation rather than trial court;
  • And creates a new ombudsman program in the division to help unrepresented employees and employers receive the assistance they need.

The bill was sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Mark Norris (R-Collierville), Sen. Jack Johnson (R-Franklin), House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick (R-Chattanooga) and Rep. Kevin Brooks (R-Cleveland).

Senate Votes to Extend 2012 Unemployment Accountability Reforms

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey; April 16, 2013:

(April 16, 2013, NASHVILLE) – Lt. Governor Ron Ramsey (R-Blountville) today praised the passage of Senate Bill 783 sponsored by Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin). The bill extends the reforms enacted by the Unemployment Accountability Act of 2012 and protects the unemployment trust fund from a federally initiated expansion.

“In 2011, I went on a Red Tape Road Trip to take the pulse of our state’s business owners. The message I received was loud and clear: our unemployment system must be reformed,” said Lt. Governor Ramsey. “This bill is a continuation of our reforms last year under the Unemployment Accountability Act of 2012. This legislation creates further protections for job creators while saving job creators from having to pick the tab for Obama’s stimulus expansion. I commend the sponsor for shepherding this much-needed piece of legislation.”

Senate Bill 783 updates the unemployment misconduct definition to include conduct constituting a criminal offense for which the claimant has been convicted or charged. The legislation further provides for reconsideration of benefits up to one year if a claimant is subsequently convicted of a misdemeanor or felony related to their termination. Additionally, the bill mandates departmental training of unemployment hearing officers as well as increasing weekly audits from 1,000 to 1,500.

As amended, the bill also protects Tennessee taxpayers from continuing to pay for an expansion of unemployment benefits originally funded under the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act of 2009. This amendment will save the state and taxpayers an estimated $62.5 million annually.

Senate Approves ‘Repealer’ to Root Out Bad Laws, Regs

Legislation to create a state Office of the Repealer passed the Senate 30-1-1 Thursday, while the House version still has a couple of committee hurdles to clear next week.

The Repealer’s job would be to go through Tennessee code and make recommendations to the Legislature on laws, rules and regulations that need to be repealed or modified because they are no longer relevant, overly burdensome or outdated.

Democratic Sen. Jim Kyle of Memphis cast the only no vote and was the only one to speak out against the legislation. Fellow Democrat, Sen. Douglas Henry of Nashville, abstained.

“Simply to explain my vote, it is somewhat ironic that we’re creating an office to try to find duplicitous government agencies and rules when its creation duplicates the work of the Government Operations Committee,” Kyle said.

“To create another branch of government to do exactly what we’re already doing is doubling up and spending money that doesn’t need to be spent,” he continued.

According to Sen. Jack Johnson, sponsor of SB595, there is no fiscal note attached to the legislation, as the position will fill an existing vacant position within the Secretary of State’s office.

Responding to Kyle’s argument, the Franklin Republican said,“There is no single individual in all of state government whose sole responsibility is to try and shrink the green books.” Johnson was referring to the bound issues of the Tennessee Code Annotated.

Johnson said he thinks it “entirely reasonable that we dedicate a single position to meet with our business owners, to meet with citizens across the state, who have to interact with state government day in and day out, and identify things that we don’t need anymore.”

Answering to the Secretary of State, the Repealer would be required to set up an online system to receive recommendations from the public, which he or she would be required to take into consideration. 

The bill sets up the post for four years, “at which time such position will cease to exist.”

Sen. Mike Bell, a Republican from Riceville who chairs the Senate Government Operations Committee, offered a single amendment that passed on a voice vote. The amendment adds both chambers’ government operations committees to the list of those receiving recommendations from the Repealer, as well as quarterly updates of his or her actions.

HB 500 is on the House Finance, Ways & Means Subcommittee’s calendar for Wed., April 3.

Amelia Morrison Hipps may be reached at amhipps@capitolnewstn.com, on Twitter @CapitolNews_TN or at 615-442-8667.

TACIR Releases Eminent Domain Report

Press release from the Tennessee Advisory Council on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR); March 13, 2013:

NASHVILLE, TN – Today, the Tennessee Advisory Committee on Intergovernmental Relations (TACIR) released its report Eminent Domain in Tennessee, a study of two bills referred to TACIR by the General Assembly last year: Senate Bill 1566 (Ketron) [House Bill 1576 (Carr)] and House Bill 2877 (Gotto) [Senate Bill 2745 (Johnson)]. The government cannot take your land without paying for it, but they can force you to sell; this action is called condemnation. The power to condemn is referred to as eminent domain.

In 2006, the Tennessee General Assembly enacted Public Chapter 863, which made significant changes to the state’s eminent domain law, including clarifying the definition of public use. These reforms, partly made in response to the US Supreme Court’s ruling in Kelo v. City of New London, greatly improved protections for property owners in Tennessee. But concerns remain about the time and expense of determining property value; the authority of housing development agencies, which are arms of the local government, to condemn property; and the ability of former property owners to repurchase condemned property that is not used by the government and later sold.

Senate Bill 1566 would have allowed a property owner to require the local government to submit to binding arbitration in order to determine the price of property to be taken by condemnation. If it had passed, local governments would not have been able to object to the use of binding arbitration. Like litigation, arbitration is a process for dispute resolution whereby a neutral third party renders a decision after a hearing at which both parties have an opportunity to be heard. With binding arbitration, the parties are legally obligated to comply with the arbitrator’s decision. While binding arbitration generally reduces the time required to resolve a dispute, it has many of the disadvantages of litigation. Binding arbitration is less time consuming than litigation, mainly because the decision cannot be appealed simply because the parties do not like the result, but it is potentially as expensive because the parties still hire lawyers, appraisers, and other experts when arbitrating disputes.

One concern raised by local governments about Senate Bill 1566 involved the issue of being forced into a dispute resolution process that can be appealed in only very limited circumstances. The only other state with a similar provision is Oregon, which allows a condemnee to force a condemner into binding arbitration only when the value placed on the property by the parties is $20,000 or less. The fact that there is only one state that authorizes a property owner to force a condemner into binding arbitration, and only then in cases that involve small claims, suggests that this is not a desirable method for resolving eminent domain disputes. In its report, the Commission points out that since Tennessee already offers a number of alternatives to litigation for resolving valuation disputes, property owners should not have the power to force local governments into binding arbitration.

One alternative to settling disputes that is already widely used in Tennessee is mediation, which is essentially a form of assisted negotiation. Less time consuming and less costly than other methods of resolving disputes, mediation is an informal process through which a neutral third party, the mediator, helps the parties reach agreement. The report says that mediation should always be considered before arbitration. Mediation is generally much quicker and much less costly than either litigation or arbitration. Moreover, the determination of value is left to the parties. If successful, mediation would make the overall process less costly and time consuming and would allow the parties to decide the price for themselves.

The other bill referred to TACIR for study, House Bill 2877, would have eliminated the power of housing agencies to condemn property, and would instead require local elected bodies to institute condemnation proceedings on behalf of them. In practice, local governments already have oversight of housing authorities’ use of eminent domain through approval of the redevelopment plans under which the authorities operate. Under Tennessee’s redevelopment law, however, a governing body may delegate authority to approve redevelopment plans to another agency, including a housing authority, which then could both approve a redevelopment plan and use it as a basis for condemnation. The Commission found no local government that has delegated this authority.

Still, removing language that allows the delegation of authority to approve a redevelopment plan to housing authorities would ensure that such agencies could not approve the plan themselves, thus using it as a basis for condemnation, without the oversight of the local governing body. It would not preclude housing authorities from condemning property to carry out plans that are approved by the local governing body. It would simply ensure that housing authorities could not be given the authority to approve the redevelopment plans that would give them the authority to condemn property. It would guarantee that the local governing body continues to have oversight of these projects.

TACIR also studied a related bill not referred to the Commission for study, Senate Bill 548 (McNally), House Bill 952 (Dunn). This bill would have given a right of first refusal to property owners whose property was condemned by a local government or a state agency. Currently, a right of first refusal exists only in the case of condemnations by the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT). A right of first refusal gives the condemnee the right to repurchase condemned property if the condemner decides to sell it. The provisions of Senate Bill 548 would have required the property to be offered to the former property owner or his heirs or assigns, if sold within ten years, at the price paid by the condemner.

Many stakeholders interviewed for the report supported the idea of giving property owners a right of first refusal in all condemnation cases. Nine other states already provide a similar right. However, local government officials, in particular, expressed concern about the burden of finding the former owner, and especially his heirs or assigns some ten years later, and about having to accept the original price paid rather than fair market value. Accordingly, the Commission recommended adoption of the TDOT model, including limiting the right of first refusal to ten years from the date of condemnation, limiting it to the former property owner only, and setting the price based on appraisals of fair market value.

Finally, several interviewees said that condemnation doesn’t happen very often, so efforts should be made to better inform property owners about their rights, including the right to receive just compensation for their condemned property. This could be accomplished by requiring condemners to include a statement of rights along with the condemnation notice before initiating condemnation proceedings. One option found in other states is an ombudsman, similar to the Office of Open Records Counsel within the Tennessee Comptroller’s Office, to assist individuals with their condemnation questions.

The full report is available on TACIR’s web site at www.tn.gov/tacir/pubs_by_date.html. For more information, contact Leah Eldridge at 615-253-4241 or Leah.Eldridge@tn.gov.

GOP Lawmakers Propose New Gov’t Office Charged with Shrinking Gov’t

Press release from the Tennessee Senate Republican Caucus; February 5, 2013:

(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) – Representative Glen Casada (R-Franklin) and Senator Jack Johnson (R-Franklin) today unveiled a new measure aimed at cutting the size of Tennessee government. The initiative, referred to as the Office of the Repealer, follows through on a Republican promise to streamline state government, save taxpayer dollars, and make the legislative process more transparent to the general public.

The Office of the Repealer will be a one-time, four-year position with the sole responsibility of making recommendations to the legislature in areas of government waste, duplication, and out-of-date regulations that should be removed from the law books.

In addition, the Office of the Repealer will take recommendations directly from the public, basing its decisions on input received from business-owners, educators, activists, and concerned citizens from across the state.

“While Washington is out of control, Tennessee is getting it right. We understand that the less laws we have on the books that regulate the lives of Tennesseans, the better,” said Rep. Casada. “While others around the country have simply talked about cutting the size of government, this program is guaranteed to achieve that goal.”

The Office of the Repealer will be housed under the Secretary of State and will be implemented using funding previously approved for a now obsolete staff position, thus costing no additional money to Tennessee taxpayers.

“Reducing the size of government is the cornerstone of the Republican Party platform and I am excited to see this program come to life,” continued Senator Johnson. “As promised, Republicans in our state are committed to cutting government waste, increasing legislative transparency, and putting more hard-earned money back in the pockets of all Tennesseans.”

Glen Casada serves as Chairman of the Tennessee House Republican Caucus. Jack Johnson serves as Chairman of the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee. Both legislators represent Williamson County in the Tennessee General Assembly.

Lawmakers Consider Stronger Monitoring of Unemployment Recipients

After lots of talk last year about problems within the state unemployment system, Republicans in the Tennessee General Assembly are ready to push legislation requiring that people collecting benefits be more accountable for their work searches.

“When you’re on employment, you’re supposed to be looking for a job, and right now it’s more or less the honor system,” said Sen. Jack Johnson, R-Franklin. He is sponsoring a bill to make unemployment-benefits recipients keep track of where they submit applications each week and provide that information to the state online.

The proposal is meant to ensure people don’t draw unemployment any longer than necessary, he said.

“The burden should be on the applicant because that’s the condition upon receiving your benefits, is that you be looking for a job,” said Lt, Gov. Ron Ramsey. “Anecdotally, we’re pretty confident there’s a lot of folks who aren’t doing that. They’re just sitting at home collecting their benefits.”

Republicans met with Tennessee employers during a series of legislative jobs task force meetings in 2011, as well as part of Ramsey’s Red Tape Road Tour in 2011.

There are three overlapping proposals in the works, including the “Unemployment Insurance Accountability Act of 2012,” which would require people collecting benefits to submit on a weekly basis the names of three employers where he or she sought work.

Gov. Bill Haslam told reporters he’s a fan of the unemployment insurance reforms, although admitted his staff still needs to research the price tax first.

“I think the direction that Lt. Gov. Ramsey is going is 100 percent right,“ Haslam said after commemorating Andrew Jackson’s 245th birthday at the Hermitage Thursday. “I told him I would do our homework with our departments to try to understand cost to state government, impact and we’d be back to weigh in on that probably next week.”

The central piece of legislation, HB3431, would also charge the Department of Labor and Workforce Development with auditing 1,000 submissions a week and kick anyone submitting fraudulent job search reports off the rolls for at least eight weeks, redefine “misconduct” that disqualifies workers from benefits and ban people who are incarcerated from collecting unemployment while behind bars.

A yet-to-be-added amendment would further change the unemployment law to set wage standards for jobs that are deemed “suitable” for unemployed workers to accept.

The measure passed a House subcommittee Wednesday, and heads to the Consumer Affairs committee Tuesday, March 20. The bill stands now with a $122,000 price tag, but would save an extra $100,000 annually for the Unemployment Trust Fund, according to state officials.

Unemployment changes didn’t make the cut in a House Republican jobs task force that met last fall, but task force chair and bill sponsor Rep. Jimmy Matlock, R-Lenoir, said those meetings contributed to his desire to edit the system.

“We understand there are people who do need this. We’re not taking this away,” Matlock said about unemployment benefits. “We’re looking for legitimate folks who need it.”

Another bill he and Johnson are sponsoring, SB3657, would allow employers to ask the department to classify them as seasonal employers. The measure would limit how much seasonal employees can collect in unemployment benefits, saving the state an estimated $2.2 million annually — although it would cost over $1 million in one-time startup costs. The measure has collected dust in House and Senate committees for weeks but is expected to move later this month.

SB3659 would require the state to build a portal for employers to send and receive information about employees who have quit, were laid off or fired. It would also allow employers to contest former workers’ benefits online.

However, the governor flagged that bill last month based on concerns about its price tag, $115,000. House lawmakers are sending this bill to the Finance Committee, although it awaits a vote in the Senate Commerce Committee.