The Florida Senate is ready to take up its version of a bill that tightens eligibility requirements for people seeking unemployment compensation. The bill‘s sponsor, Sen. Nancy Detert, R-Venice, has been haggling with her House counterpart over a provision that would shorten the number of weeks people can receive benefits from 26 to 20. So far, she has stood firm. The Senate’s version does not cut benefits.

Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, is calling on Detert to “meet in the middle,” cutting the benefits period to 23 weeks. That wouldn’t exactly be meeting in the middle, though, because Holder is also trying to get Detert to include an innovative provision that cuts the benefits period below 20 weeks as the unemployment rate declines.

Under Holder’s House bill, benefits would last only 12 weeks if the unemployment rate falls to 5 percent. For each additional half of a percent in the unemployment rate above that, it adds a week of benefits, up to a maximum of 20 weeks if the unemployment rate is 9 percent or higher.

“It sends a very important message to the business community, because we would be the only state that actually ties unemployment compensation to the unemployment rate, which I think is a tremendous message to get out to the business community,” he said, adding: “It makes us unique.”

Karen Woodall, who lobbies on behalf of the poor for the liberal-leaning Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy, said the tiering of benefits based on the unemployment rate approach amounts to benefit cuts.

“I haven’t seen any state take the tiered approach because it doesn’t really make any sense,” she said. If people are unemployed, they rely on unemployment benefits until they can find work — regardless of what the unemployment rate happens to be.

Detert said last week that she has a compromise up her sleeve to keep the 26-week period in place, but she wouldn’t say what that was.

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