The Florida House of Representatives moved a step closer to tightening the state’s unemployment compensation system on Thursday. The measure would make it more difficult for claimants to receive benefits, reduce employers’ contributions to the unemployment trust fund and lower the maximum number of weeks benefits are available from 26 to 20.

State Rep. Doug Holder, R-Sarasota, told the House finance and tax committee the bill would help “send a message to the business community” that Florida is looking to become more business-friendly.

James Waldman, D-Coconut Creek, said Florida is already one of the most business-friendly states in the country.

Florida also has one of the lowest rates of unemployed workers receiving benefits in the country. Only Virginia and South Dakota have lower percentages of the unemployed receiving state benefits, according to the most recent report from the Department of Labor.

David Daniel of the Florida Association of Professional Employment Organizations offered several anecdotes of unemployed workers who have committed misconduct, but still are able to get benefits.

The bill would bring “consistency and fairness” to the unemployment system, Holder said, echoing numerous statements from supporters of the measure.

John Patrick Julien, D-North Miami Beach, wanted to know what fairness and consistency had to do with lowering the number of weeks people could receive benefits. He asked the committee to “make this a bipartisan bill” by keeping the number of weeks at 26.

That idea went nowhere. Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, invited Julien to join his colleagues at 20 weeks, and the measure passed on a party-line vote, with Republicans in support.

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